Thursday, May 5, 2011
My latest book to finish reading is Second Nature: A Gardener's Education by Michael Pollan. Pollan has become well-known as an advocate for sustainable food practices (The Omnivore's Dilemma, and his contributions to Food, Inc), but Second Nature is from 1991, a bit before all that became part of the conversation.
Second Nature isn't about food, but rather about gardening - and about how gardens are the arena for nature and culture to come together in various ways. Pollan writes of weeds, hybrid roses, planting trees, lawns, and much more, but the prevailing thread is how we as humans interract with nature and how we balance nature and culture.
Much of the book seems to be arguing with Thoreau - something I enjoy as I'm often mentally arguing with Thoreau as well :) - about the nature of man and "the wild" and culture. It's beautifully written and deeply thought-provoking. A truly lovely meditation on humanity's history, culture, and nature, all set in the garden.
From the book:
.... finding a good answer to that question will involve a much more complicated set of choices than the usual American alternatives, which seem to consist of either raping the land or sealing it away in a preserve where no one can touch it. That the first approach is bankrupt goes without saying. Yet, right as it sounds, the second one may be a dead end too. Gardening quickly teaches you to distrust all such absolutes, to frame the questions a little differently. Must we always shrink before our own power in nature?