The Mechanics of Life

There’s a term I remember from the putty-green workrooms of Clemson’s agricultural building.  I overheard from the hall, a professor, teaching floral design say something like, ‘You get it right with wire and tape and picks and then you hide those things, you hide the mechanics of flower arranging.   He should have used a different word or just said, hide the ugly things that hold the pretty things together.  Because right away and forever since, all I can see when I think , hide the mechanics is a bunch-rough looking, greasy men in dirty coveralls, thick hands holding cigarettes, wrenches and sprays of plastic asparagus fern over their parts, trying not to look

Why does everyone want us to hide the mechanics of life?  I’ve been taking pictures for an upcoming book.  The goal of each photo is partially directed by an editorial team who wants, mainly, to sell books.   I’ll submit a great photo and they’ll respond with a question— can you get this same photo but with some super-cute containers in the foreground?  I listen; they’ve made hundreds of beautiful books and they know a great photo better than I do.  So I’m always looking through the lense, picking out the ugly.  Hiding the mechanics before I click the shutter.

As a gardener, garden designer, garden mechanic, I’m a master of hiding stuff.  It’s what my job is sometimes about— making things look like something spectacular just happened.  Without guidance, wires, saws or sweat.   A client used to laugh at me when I’d say, ‘we have to move the hoses, rake out those tire marks and oh, can we get the mop out of the tree?’  Put it behind the scenes, so visitors are not distracted by the story we want to tell.

Lately, I’ve grown tired of hiding the things that really make life happen.   I not sure why I said lately.  In other parts of life, I’ve always love to challenge those little deceptions. But recently, even when it comes to plants, I’ve worked hard to see, to respect the dirty, the bugs, fungus, manure.  To bring them to our conciseness, and to help others see how critical it is that we care for the web of life beneath our feet.    Feel the heat of the microbial population explosion in our compost tea maker?  Yes, those are weeds.  And I love them and they are home to balance, ecosystem and spirits.   People seem to love to see how the farm works, the low cost, practical mechanisms of growing things.

Some people.  Some times.

Sometimes I still struggle with the mess; hoses out, projects partially done, plastic barrels and irrigation parts marring the picture.   The not so sexy knees, elbows, belly’s and black plastic pots.  The tough parts; killing a squirrel, cutting down a giant tea olive, sucking up to the magazine editor.  Leaning hard on the contractor who just won’t finish the plumbing.

One day, someday, I’ll gloss over all the dirty details, the mechanism and the hard lessons and tell a great story about some hot mechanics who got caught with their pants down and used a fig leaf, or plastic asparagus leaf for cover.   Better yet, I’ll learn from, love, maybe glorify the mechanics of this gardening

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