It was the winter of 1988. I was a sophomore in college trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I could write a book about the things I did not know then. But one thing I did know was that I wanted to fully experience this life and see, feel and taste all that I could. And this: I wanted to be happy. Fulfilled.
So when I was assigned to read one of the great works of the Enlightenment, Voltaire’s Candide, the theme of exploration of far-flung places and people and ways of thinking resonated.
Twenty four years later, I don’t remember much detail about the different philosophical or physical geographies Candide and his crew explored. But the somewhat simple epiphany Candide makes after seeing and experiencing much of the world has stayed with me and makes far more sense to me now than it did then.
After much philosophical debating between Candide and his crew, he declares that one must stop philosophizing and cultivate one’s garden as the only defense against boredom and dissatisfaction.
In my own time and way, I have arrived at the same conclusion. To me this has powerful meaning that is both figurative and literal. In my twenties and thirties I wanted to sample everything life had to offer (well, maybe not everything). But now I feel the need to focus on a few things that really matter to me: family, place, friends, ideas. Certainly travel and broad-ranging philosophies are still appealing. But I’ve eaten long enough from the buffet table. Now I know what I like and I prefer to order off the menu, thank you very much.
Putting down deep roots in one physical geography is, for me, one important way of cultivating my garden.
Oh, and of course there is the literal interpretation of that big idea. I do love, in a way I never could have predicted, to dig in the literal loam and cultivate my actual garden–or my “hippie garden” as my wife likes to call it. I grow great produce, but I don’t subscribe to the perfectly straight rows and manicured dirt approach. Too much order disagrees with my personality.
Remember Thoreau! In wildness is the preservation of the world.
If you happen to have a hankering for something a little more substantial than your average modern novel, pick up a copy of Candide. It fell off the best-sellers list about 200 years ago, so you may have to dig around a bit.