The earth may be a tiny blue speck lost in the mind-numbingly vast depths of space, but compared to the scale of a single human life it is big enough. And as if the very big-ness of the planet wasn’t enough to contend with, it often feels so beset with problems that it’s difficult to know where to start living a good life—one which, we hope, might make some small positive difference. Sometimes the easiest place to start is right where we are. On Sunday afternoon I ventured into the garden and did some semi-purposeful digging: it always feels good, amid our over-connected and over-sedentary lifestyles, to spend a while with fingers literally in the ground. Even if I do reliably complain of being exhausted afterwards.
Gardening is at once a form of escapism from the intractable problems beyond the fence and a way of participating more fully, of taking responsibility for one small slice of the planet. Whether I do any actual good is another question. If anything, I feel mildly guilty as I interfere in the most direct ways with the path of wild nature: evicting slugs and woodlice from under a spare fence panel, disturbing a little group of pale brown beetles that must have wintered in the long dead grass I was gathering up. Hacking back the bramble and nipping out a sycamore seedling just as it had become established in our lawn.
Still, it’s a good reminder that my footprint on this earth is bigger than my size nine and a halves. I struggled for an hour or so trying to clear a small plot to grow some vegetables in. Elsewhere in the country farmers do this on a bigger scale on our behalf, and, given the difficulties of uprooting weeds and tangled grass clumps, I can hardly blame them when they reach for the glyphosate—though I’m pleased to say our friendly veg growers at Riverford manage without. One afternoon with spade in hand hardly counts as being connected to the land, but it’s a start. The sour note comes when I remind myself how fleeting this control and connection must be: we rent this house and the garden behind it, whilst the real power, influence and security belong to those who privately ‘own’ their dwellings and sometimes plots many times the size of our temporary abode.