Out of My Mind

Dominating nature: It's all relative in more ways than one

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By Debbie Carini

I have a lot of respect for people who love nature.

I appreciate nature (thank you flowers and trees for oxygen and shade!). And I like to look at it from the comfort of a tour bus or paved walking path. But that’s about the limit of my discourse with the great outdoors.

When my parents first moved to California (from New Jersey) in 1967, we often found ourselves challenged by our neighbors’ enthusiasm for camping, sleeping outside and otherwise not partaking of our favorite mode of travel – the Ford Torino station wagon with evening stops at the Holiday Inn.

In the mid-1960s, the whole manifest destiny thing seemed to manifest itself in the ownership of a camper perched on a truck or a VW Westfalia van.

Some people like to dominate nature by hiking the Appalachian Trail or scaling the face of El Capitan or surfing “The Wedge” at Newport Beach in California.

Our family approached, with trepidation, the great outdoors like we were in Lion Country Safari … without a car.

We travelled all over the Western United States when we were kids, but whenever we got out of the car, a chorus of “lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!” was usually running through our heads.

From the ocean to the mountains, we were “that family” – the one with a dad wearing socks and sneakers at the beach.

Where my family truly excelled at bringing nature under control was in our manicured, trimmed yard. When my parents were able to buy their first home, they took great pride in its appearance.

And my dad dominated the flora with a hedge trimmer, clippers, a lawn mower, and child laborers (me and my sister). Our yard overflowed with portulacas, and roses, and grass that Jack Nicklaus might have teed-off on.

I was thinking about this the other day as I was trying to bring my own garden under some semblance of control (something I can’t even seem to do with my hair and I’ve been at that for several decades now).

We gave up on grass long ago and converted to a water-conscious native garden with planter boxes that hold year-round things we grow and eat, like tomatoes, zucchini, lettuces, and herbs.

But there are still weeds; and things need to be trimmed. So, I find myself outside, doing the very work I dreaded as a child (I spent many youthful Sundays in church praying for services to go longer so I would not have to go home and face the original Lawn Doctor).

The impulse to dominate nature is a deeply human one and snipping, trimming, plowing and mowing provides a satisfactory answer to it. Now-a-days, I don’t mind getting my fingers dirty or the back of my neck a bit sunburnt.

In this busy world, there are so few things that progress to fruition with simple, loving care – and water and dirt and sunshine – that I can appreciate how my father must have enjoyed the solitude and satisfaction of his neatly organized, and brightly-colored patch of happiness.

On this Father’s Day, when I can go into my yard, and return with blood oranges, and chard, and chives, and passionfruit, I’d like to thank him for teaching me to stop and smell the roses.

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