Gardening as Infinite Game

Michael Umphrey describes gardening as an infinite game. Many cultures have images of something having no beginning and no end, like this Celtic knotwork pattern that comes from the good people at Dover Publications, who are nice enough to give away free samples of their clipart packages.

THIS MORNING I HAD THE PLEASURE of opening an email from Michael Umphrey, resident of Montana, teacher, writer, and author of a book on community-centered education. Michael blogs on several topics, including gardening, from his Internet home at the Montana Heritage Project.

Michael let me know that he had read yesterday's post, "A Gardener's Duty," liked it, and linked to it, which of course sent me in search of the post that mentioned me, me, me. But the ego boost of seeing myself mentioned on someone else's blog was greatly exceeded by the joy of reading Michael's other entries. I started with his take on my post, "Gardeners Understand Small Solutions to Big Problems," then moved on to a post with a title that's bound to appeal to any gardener: "No Time to Garden." It begins with a sentence almost any gardener will understand: "I don't have time to garden well. I garden anyway."

This post introduces the notion that gardening is an infinite game, explained at length in a marvelous 1999 article Michael wrote called "A Sense of Time." An infinite game is the opposite of a finite game, which is played to win. An infinite game is played in order to go on playing. Michael writes:
Football is a finite game. Gardening is an infinite game. A political campaign is a finite game. A family is an infinite game. A business deal is a finite game. A religion is an infinite game.
Michael offers a description of gardening that captures why I continue to garden despite lack of time and, far more debilitating, a frequent sense that the best thing I could do for the Earth would be to do nothing at all.

Gardening, he writes, "takes place as a nexus of vision, art, science, community, and time." This puts gardening, along with forestry, ecological restoration, and agriculture (all practices having to do with the management of land), on a short list of practices that allow us to experience all of these things at once. I don't know about you, but I find that if I dwell in this spot long enough, I begin to see life itself as an infinite game, and can at least briefly put away all my fretting and worries and hovering despair. This experience cannot be expressed in words, but Michael evokes it in the following passage:

Having a garden is, to me, mostly a way of paying attention to the grace that dazzles and reassures, a way of aligning one’s small efforts with something so vast and good that we slowly learn we really do have nothing to fear.

No comments: