In spite of the fact that I never liked school, that the flowers and tomatoes will soon be shutting down, and that the long hours of daylight are fading fast, I always get this happy feeling of a new year starting in September. I didn’t like school, but I loved going shopping for new school supplies. The smell of freshly-sharpened pencils is right up there with the scent of apple cider in my pantheon of childhood memories, and the remembered delight of shuffling through fallen leaves obscures my negative feelings for the tedious and boring child-warehouse to which I was shuffling. A lot of what I didn’t like about school was that it constrained or separated me from these things – these glorious things.
Because poets love things. “No ideas but in things,” said William Carlos Williams. “A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” said John Keats. Pablo Neruda wrote Ode after Ode to “Common Things.” The thing you can grasp in your hand, the sum of all the effort that went into making it, illuminates it into metaphor, which turns and magnifies it back.
Look, for instance, at these things growing in my garden. I put some seeds into some dirt a few months ago, and for weeks now I’ve been eating the results: yellow summer squash and tomatoes. They look nothing like the dirt. Yellow? Red? Where did that come from? But when I slice them open, there are the seeds inside, like a memory. They are things of dirt, air, seed, water, and care. We eat them unthinkingly, because if we had to pay attention to every commonplace miracle as it happened, our heads would explode. It is necessary, or mostly necessary, to walk through the world with a sort of miracle filter between us and it. This goes for the human-made world as well as for the natural one. We tell each other our thoughts across greater and greater distances, not only expecting this as our due, but being mildly outraged when it fails.
As a gardener and a poet, I volunteer against this onrush of nonchalance, risking soundness of mind in the service of appreciation of the world.