Monday, October 17, 2011

Private Property, Laws, Cabbage Moth Caterpillar, Liberty Plaza

When I was twenty-one I rented a studio apartment on Cottage Grove, in Bloomington, IN.  It was kind of a dump.  One night I came home and found my apartment door completely covered by a swarm of beetles.  I'd left the light on, and they'd come from all around to do who-knows-what on my door.  Probably nothing.  Just normal beetle behavior.  Whatever the case, it struck me that I was the one who paid the rent there, and that I therefore had some authority over the door, and that I was thus free to evict the beetles in any manner I deemed appropriate.  I went to find a bath towel.  But how, really, do you evict a beetle?  What do you do when something wild impinges upon your private property?  It's not like you can take a raccoon to court.  I say all of this because we all know (or we should all know) that private property is an arbitrary concept that man fabricated and which he enforces by all the standard means: complicated laws, institutions, intimidation, deadly fences, weapons.  You only own that which you can retain by means of power.  If some larger power comes along and vanquishes your claim and supplants it with new institutions and laws, you will find yourself in the position of the dispossessed.  I was about to dispossess this cabbage moth caterpillar yesterday, as I would have done in my youth, but instead I petted it.  

Late this summer, I planted a small number of tatsoi for a fall harvest, but the cabbage moths came around, laid their eggs, and this is the result: no tatsoi for me, a bunch of nice tatsoi for the caterpillars.  Instead of pinching this caterpillar between my thumb and forefinger, I let it occupy my plant.  Eat is probably a better word, but today I prefer occupy.  I thus renamed my tatsoi patch, Liberty Plaza, to show my solidarity with the protestors in Manhattan and around the world.  My garden is big enough for the both of us.  We exist together, as equals.  There is food enough for me and for the various insects who come to my garden to claim their share.  But there's that word again: claim.  It is their share—I do believe that—but they can only enjoy it when I allow the claim, when I do not do everything in my power to block their claim.  Insects are beyond the reach of human law, but they are not beyond the reach of a thumb and forefinger (of an organic gardener) or the insecticide of what we have come to call "conventional farming."  Perhaps it's too bad that we now consider the assertion of power through chemicals to be conventional.  Perhaps "perhaps" is not a strong enough word.

The truth is that gardening is a lot like governing, where the gardener is the governor and the constituents are the native insects, fungi, and bacteria that inhabit the garden.  It is possible to eliminate them in great numbers, to control their populations, to even devastate them, but it is also possible to take a somewhat more generous view of life and allow them to flourish, though it's not only generous: it's smart and sensible, too.  Healthy ecosystems are very complex.  The garden should be a place where life is various and healthy, where the various forms of life are encouraged, not discouraged.  Naturally, some conflict will arise when two animals lay claim to the same plant, but the twin knee jerk reactions of suppression and elimination are probably not the soundest courses of action.  We exist in a very complicated kind of union on this planet, a union that is not without competition—it never could be—but the abundance of this planet can be divided more equitably.  I believe that 100%.  There is room in the garden for more than the gardener.   

P.S. peaceful protestors are not insects; I don't mean to insinuate that