Ruskin was convinced that the Paradise most of us imagine or long for was neither elsewhere (the Italian riviera?) or located in some vaguely conceived heavenly future. It was all around us. Has always been. Will always be (very evident on the first warm day of spring when the birds, flowers, clouds, and air are dancing about us in delight) If we didn’t see it, it was because things we or others had done or were doing still, hindered us from seeing it. No god worthy of the name, he said, would withhold the sweetnesses and beauty of creation from those whom he had made capable of seeing them. We are surrounded by what Mr. Ruskin, in his inimitable way, called “infinite orchards”–always.
But, like all orchards, the ones waiting at our elbows to be appreciated require tending if we and others care to see and enjoy them in their fullness. Our last two Posts–61: The List and 62: “And if on Due and Honest Thought Over These Things”–summarized some of our Great Victorian’s thoughts about some of the most important things that needed doing if those lovely views were to emerge from the shadows, shadows which we, not they, have made. Doing is the significant thing, he always said. Knowing that no one is capable of doing all, the key to better days, he argued, was for each of us to choose one or two of the orchards in our vicinity and then commit our powers to bringing them to full fruit. Others, dedicated to the tending of other orchards, would help fill in the interstices until that moment arrived when all the blossoms blossomed. If these others chose not to tend the orchards within their reach, at the very least we will have tended ours, and that bit of paradise will have been regained. Nothing to be sneered at, that result!
Here’s how, in 1860, he introduced this idea of beneficent orchards surrounding us to readers of the fifth volume of his magisterial Modern Painters series. (If you’d like a truly elegant and inspiring read after you come in from this day’s gardening, you could hardly do better than peruse a few pages of this incredible work of genius, you can find them here: Modern Painters V. You could download the whole, of course, and have hundreds of elegant paragraphs on the essential things of life available for many days’ moments of post-gardening!)
“Paradise,” he said, beginning, was reputedly “full of pleasant shades and fruitful avenues. Well! What hinders us from covering as much of the world as we like with pleasant shade and pure blossom and goodly fruit? Who forbids its valleys to be covered over with corn till they laugh and sing? Who prevents its dark forests, dark and uninhabitable, from being changed into infinite orchards…flushing the face of all the autumnal earth with glow of clustered food?
But Paradise was a place of peace, we say, and all the animals were gentle servants to us. Well! the world would yet be a place of peace if we were all peacemakers, and gentle service should we have of its creatures if we gave them gentle mastery. But so long as we make sport of slaying bird and beast, so long as we choose to contend rather with our fellows than with our faults, and make battlefield of our meadows instead of pasture–so long, truly, the Flaming Sword will still turn every way, and the gates of Eden remain barred close enough, till we have sheathed the sharper flame of own passions, and broken down the closer gates of our own hearts.
Below are two examples of those who decided to use their powers to tend orchards or flowers they had noticed nearby, making, for example, in the first instance (Monet’s “Fruit Trees in Blossom”), those gentle blooms available to us throughout the coldest winters, and, in the second (Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Morning Glories”), reminding us that all our mornings are glorious.
Until next time.
Be well out here, tending, curing, orcharding.