The lone voice of horticultural reason

Lessons From the Wilderness III

11-1-07 – I don’t know for certain that gardeners have a greater appreciation of wilderness areas than do non-gardeners, but I suspect we do. After all, we’re intrigued by the acts of rearranging earth, of growing stuff up from it, and placing items on it. So it makes sense that gardeners cast perhaps a slightly keener eye on those views of the planet where, when it comes to the topography, the plants, and the accessories, only nature has had a hand. Who knows? There may be an idea we can steal.


When I travel, I know I’m always focusing on the view, even if I’m traveling for business and gazing only from the window of a cab on the ride from some airport to some downtown. Generic billboards, freeway bridges, factories, bits of neighborhoods, churches, schools, office buildings, always, but sometimes unmolested patches of forest and often water, and occasionally a view of enough miles off yonder that I get some sense of the natural topography of wherever it is I am. Still, it’s always a pity. I bet I’ve been to Georgia a half-dozen times, yet all I know is the freeway view from Hartsfield-Jackson Airport to downtown Atlanta, and that’s a shame. I hear Georgia’s pretty.


Sometimes I’m able to afford a few extra days on a trip, rent a car, burn up a few hundred miles. I don’t stop until I find wilderness, until I reach a place where the land, the sky, and the view these two create has since the beginning of time remained completely unfettered by human hand. Then I get out, grab my backpack, and walk, walk away from the road and emerge gently into the wilderness, taking no effort to make my pulse drop, my breathing to grow deep and steady, my body to slowly shrug off its tension, my mind to calm and open to new thoughts, new revelations, no effort required for any of this, the wilderness draws all human efforts, mental and physiological, from you.


As I walk I look at the shape and flow of the earth that surrounds me, at the trees and shrubs, the groundcover, the water (if I find any), all the while trying to figure out why it is always so supremely beautiful. I creep up on the activities of the wildlife and eavesdrop on the conversations between the birds, I marvel at the random perfection of nature, then after awhile I come upon a comfortable temple within the wilderness, where I sit and rest and ponder what I consider important questions, and see if I get any answers.


It’s a habit. I’m out looking for a high, a mood-altering experience, not that much different from my drinking and etc. days, now decades past, except of course that these wilderness highs are good for me, and don’t make girlfriends so darn mad. This wilderness habit was developed early in my life, whereby the luck of geography and ancestry I have been able to spend some portion of every year of my life exploring the shorelines, islands, forests, cliffs, lakes, rivers and streams surrounding the tiny bush town of Minaki, Ontario.

One cannot experience this wilderness and not ponder whom or what created it, wonder why it so quickly infiltrates and alters every element of one’s being. Why are we drawn to wilderness? What power does it hold? The answer that has slowly formed for me is that we are drawn to wilderness because in areas where the influence of human, mortal man is nowhere in effect, the spiritual principles that lie beneath all material reality rise nearer to our perception.


Ooh, careful, Don. Next thing you know you’ll be mentioning God and quoting the Bible, and that always causes half the people reading something to scurry for the TV remote. News Flash! The Renegade Gardener is a right-wing Christian zealot! No I’m not. But steep yourself in the wisdom of this Ontario wilderness for going on five decades and it becomes impossible to find credence in the arguments of the atheists.


Beauty, Grace, Love

They argue that all I see when I explore this land just simply happened, a big bang, some quirky, giant, non-sponsored chemistry experiment that by sheer chance created the most exquisite examples of beauty, grace, harmony, peace, persistence, supply, unity, symmetry and love I have found anywhere. Yes, love. I am immersed in love for this wilderness. Where does this love come from?

Is it some chemical released in the liver, or pancreas? Scientists have never found it. Is a mother truly the single source of the love she feels for her child? Or is the source something greater, something nearly inconceivable to human thought, some infinite source from which love passes to us?


Study the photos—you don’t have to believe in a Creator or Supreme Spiritual Being to realize that there is masterful design behind this wilderness. Why can’t those of the “sheer chance” persuasion, who insist that the design of our planet and the universe had no designer, shift half a degree and call whatever sheer chance caused it all, God? I think the hesitancy has everything to do with the established, prevalent definitions of this word, “God,” and the human, erroneous idiocy that has been performed on His/Her/Its behalf.

Wipe the slate clean, and it’s not difficult to believe in God. One’s definition of God need not be remotely similar to anyone else’s, after all. God can be principle. God can be whatever unseen, intangible principle created this wilderness. 

Harmony, Beauty, Grace

Truth is intangible, yet real, as is life. Did humans invent life? I can pick up an acorn from my yard, put it in my pocket, fly to England, go hike in the countryside, plant it, and 200 years from now there will be an eighty-foot oak tree growing in the English countryside. Aside from my courier service, did man have anything to do with that? Then what did? 

These key principles that humans did not invent—truth, life, love—they aren’t material, yet are real, and came from somewhere. A common word for this unseen, alternative reality is spirituality. That word doesn’t offend or scare me. It intrigues me. It makes me ponder that perhaps the spiritual reality is the true version of our existence, and the material reality the false. It makes me ponder that as I gaze at this material wilderness, I’m actually glimpsing evidences of spiritual principles, and that as the version you choose to believe in grows in your consciousness, it becomes your reality—for better, or for worse. At the very least, I’ve arrived at the belief that when it comes to the material world, there’s more going on than meets the eye. 


We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Damn, my fault, should have warned you, II Corinthians 4:18. Some of you are thinking, what is going ON here, this is supposed to be a goofy gardening Web site. Well, sorry, I guess I’ve spent too much time in the wilderness, pondering man’s origin and existence. And yes, have checked out the Bible, I’d heard rumors it had something to say on the subject.  Don’t flip. I’m on a quest, here, and the Bible happens to be one of the reference books I’ve found interesting. There are others. Put that remote down, you made it this far, I’m almost done!

Peace, Unity

In fact, that’s all. Thoughts on what draw me to gardening, to nature, to the wilderness. I believe that our material experience evidences spiritual principles that we can ignore or pursue, and you’ll find this evidence more readily in the wilderness, than in, say, downtown Manhattan. Look at this wilderness: beauty rules, grace abounds, harmony exists in every design, peace is present, persistence is a law, the river defines supply, unity and symmetry are in abundance, and love continuously unfolds.

Unity, Symmetry, Love


And humans had nothing to do with it. If all mankind emulated only these qualities, I suspect the world might appear to us a much different place. 

OK, I’ll play fair this time. WARNING: BIBLE PASSAGE FOLLOWS. 

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
— I Corinthians 2:14

These are the questions I ask, and the answers I receive, when I enter the spirit of the wilderness.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener