Be gentle in all your gardens


I have a winter garden here in Providence, plus a summer garden in, aptly, South County.

What does that mean, “have”? Oh, I pay taxes on each property, and I have the yards, front and back.

Here in town, there is primarily a ground cover of ivy, and then later in the warm months, the Rose of Sharon shrub throws off bright crimson blossoms. I inherited a peony bush, but it produces only one single sweet flower, and is long gone by now, after a brief indoor visit in a vase. Nothing exotic or profoundly “native,” so far.

Is your soil “Eden”? I like to pretend that each creature, bird or beast, that visits my front, side or back door is a Hasidic guest sent down from the firmament above to check me out. Squirrel, robin, pigeon, mourning dove, rabbit, all welcome ... but how about a mouse in the house?

I did try to use a humane trap, called Mice Cube, and it was a wondrous blessing for me. Clear wee boxes, and you add a dab of peanut butter, then one side door, or wall, would trap it until you turned it over ... and then, unharmed, safe and sound, the prisoner could and would escape into its own Eden of wilderness. But not before cussing me out, as I interpreted its body language.

But they don’t make the trap that way anymore, and I am forced to commit a crime – a serious offense, according to my code.

Years ago, when my son lived with us, he woke me once and said, “Dad, there’s a squirrel in the shower stall.” There was indeed, but I had a humane trap and got it out after an adventurous hunt for both of us, me and the intruder, and plenty of open windows.

But back to the plants, shrubs, small trees: they too pose problems, spiritually and morally. What constitutes a “weed”? I leave this up to my noble wife’s judgment, and her hands and fists to tend, till, take action and determine the destiny of each flower, herb, the ground cover and mulch.

I cannot render my mercy as the fate of every leaf, root or seed in my domain. I always liked my dandelions, and welcomed whatever blew in on the flying hope on wings, breezes, or in raindrops perhaps, or even via the droppings of a passing bunny.

So, my point is that gardening is a form of prayer, as you try to recover the dream of Eden, that humans can share the humus honorably ... except for the tree of “knowledge,” by which I mean the very concept of “progress.”

Everything we buy, cherish and value is perhaps a sin, an unforgivable crime against Genesis. I vastly prefer the word “regress,” to an imagined time when the human hand could cope charitably with the lifetime requirements of a contemplative citizen.

We have lost our way – although I live not on a “street,” but a “way.” Our “way” blends into a “memorial” road. So, poetically, we might read our Torah as a warning against spellcheck, and an invitation to pen our prayers with our fingers ... and thus win the blessings from the blue sky ....

Quite sincerely and not totally whimsically, I read our Genesis and its forbidden fruit as strangely relevant to the crisis currently facing our globe, when our “intelligence” has poisoned the blessings of the great wide world and closed the gates and posed the problems of our pride and gluttony.

As our Hebrew month of Av, with its memorial destruction and thus its mourning and fasting, brings us pause to ponder, let us rediscover our personal Edens with gentler gardens – privately, politically, philosophically, spiritually, locally.

MIKE FINK ( is a professor emeritus at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Mike Fink, Sketchbook