29 April 2011

My Gardener, Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius was emperor of the Roman Empire from 161 to 180 A.D.  He was by many accounts, the "thinking man's" emperor, fully capable of commanding the respect of nearly all without losing sight of himself as a human being.  He was able to kick ass and write cool stuff, like the Meditations.  To this day, I really like that book, and my copy has been appended with numerous penciled in notes and underlined passages.

My boy Marcus thought a lot about Nature (as in the 'natural world') and nature (as in 'innate qualities') and one of the things I picked up from his musings was the idea of respecting people and things based on their true selves.  His words taught me to start looking at people, places and things with an eye towards discerning what it is that inherently makes them what they are.

I'm still working on that; it's a slow, imperfect process.

For reasons I cannot quite fathom, his musings came back to me tonight, as I stood in the backyard holding my brand-new chain saw in hand and contemplating the havoc I had wrought on some pesky branches and brush piles.  I was gazing at the ragged end of the branch I had cut, up on a tree limb that had been overhanging the little Japanese maple in the back corner of the yard.  The nub that I left was splintered and jagged, and not looking at all like any care had been given to the act of cutting.  The low hum of power I had previously felt, at wielding a tool that made cutting so easy, had faded.  Now I felt tired and a little sheepish.

The tree branch was innocent of any offense.  It was simply fulfilling its nature as trees are wont to do, with no malice aforethought.  That I felt the need to trim it arose more from my own peevishness at the weeds and brush and growth that seems to be overtaking my efforts to maintain a semblance of order literally in my own backyard.

That I had bought a chain saw was an action that arose out of the human belief that technology (its an electric saw) would solve my problem tout de suite.  I was so enamored of the tool I was wielding that I forgot to respect the very things I sought to remove.

It may be true that this kind of maintenance is a necessary thing.  After all, I live in a town, not the forest.  I am willing to let things live and grow within limits, but I do not care to live in a thicket, either.

Still, cutting and trimming and snapping and clearing can be done with respect...and I didn't quite give it the proper respect.  The haste and unevenness of the cut I made was clear evidence of my hubris.  I could almost sense the disappointment from the tree.

It was then that I imagined Marcus Aurelius standing at my elbow, shaking his head and tut-tutting, maybe even chiding me in Latin to remind me to respect things for what they are.  Don't let ego or expediency get in the way of taking care in what you do, especially when those actions may mean injury or disruption of life now matter what its form.  I resolved then, that in my Domestic Wilderness Management program, I would exercise more care in all things, especially cutting things down.  If it must be done, do it well.  Do it with respect.

As Marcus himself said, "Where it is possible to live, it is possible to live well".  Hear, hear!


  1. "remind me to respect things for what they are" I tried that with Orley Tates recently and it was a disaster.

  2. I don't like to trim the trees either. It seems almost like an arm being cut off. But I do have a chain saw and have used it many times.

  3. I heard your voice in this, out loud, as I read.


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...