Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Its All in How You Spin It

I worked with Kwame several years ago.

When I first met him his name was Cephas – the non-African name he was assigned as a part of the attempted Anglicization of his part of Ghana that was still going on during the 1950’s when he born and growing up there. I never got much of the story By the time we had met he had immigrated to the USA, become college educated (either here, there and/or somewhere else), married, fathered a daughter and a son, and settled into a career as a computer programmer at the downtown Hartford insurance company at which I was also employed. He never talked about how he ended up there.

We needed staff on my project and I was told that someone named “Cephas Irish-last-name” would be joining the team. I expected a tall red-haired, barrel-chested, boisterous Celtic. I got instead a mid-sized but muscular, square-featured, ebony-colored, thoughtfully quiet and reflective, problem solver. He shook my hand and told me softly that he was no longer going by his Christian appellation but was to be known henceforth as Kwame.

Kwame always wore a crisply ironed white dress shirt with a tie and cufflinks. And he proudly drove a large Mercedes Benz sedan. When I moved off the project to another position in the same division we became out of work acquaintances. It turned out that we were both tennis players of about equal ability each looking for someone to whack the ball across the net with. On the court he donned classic tennis whites to my baggy plaid Bermuda shorts and colored collared shirt.

Kwame was a steady backcourt tennis player who, like me, loved to put extreme spins on the fuzzy yellow orb and who, like me, took more pleasure in the complexity of the ball movement and the length of the point, than the final result. We played once, sometimes twice, weekly during the outdoor tennis season. And on every point each of us was trying to twist the arc of the returning spheroid beyond the world of the predictable into the realm of the totally unexpected and completely unforgettable.
He also had the ability to express things in a manner that shed an entirely different perspective on the situation.

For example, one time I brought into work a blueberry teacake that Mars had made with berries picked from one of the bushes in our backyard. I offered Kwame a piece.

He was reluctant to take even a taste until I assured him that I had sprayed absolutely nothing on the fruit bushes. In fact other than planting and watering them the only care that I gave them was to drape them in layers of tobacco netting.

“Ooh! Jeem. I did not know that you were an organic gardener.” he lilted, as he quickly popped chunks of the sweet crumbly cake into his mouth.

I didn’t know that either. I had thought, with some degree of certainty based upon personal experience and the opinion of others, that I was just lazy. Organic gardening, I believed, was more than just a hands-off gardening technique. It was a way of life – a calling – with its own set of labor-intensive, arcane, 100% pure rituals and practices. And an end product that said to the world “I have replicated Eden, and without the help of Dow Chemical.” In short, it was much more work than I wanted to put in to burnishing my moral standing in the horticultural universe.

But now I realized it was really just a matter of perspective. Once I had been put into the highest pantheon of plantsman by someone whose judgment I truly valued – since nothing validates someone else’s wisdom more than telling you what you want to here – I vowed to keep that lofty position by continuing to do as little as possible to influence the growth of my vegetation. A philosophy that I have assiduously followed all these years – “lazy-faire” gardening.

I was reminded of all this the other day when I was out in our butterfly garden silently bemoaning the extremely low number of Lepidoptera versus the large volume of humming-stinging insects that are attracted to that corner of our earth. I had made a similar complaint to Kwame one time when he was visiting my backyard après tennis. It was a slow patty-cake lob of a comment. The perfect set up for either a breath-stopping slam return or the most delicate finesse shot.

“In gardens and life –
if you want the butterflies
you have to have bees.”

There was, and still is, nothing more to say.


Bram said...

Now that I've discovered Roundup to keep the bindweed at bay, I just can't do without.

Jim said...

Lazy-faire gardening
like pacifism, lives in
a bindweed-free world.