Following up on my last post about my run-in with a raucous proponent of ev psych, I should clarify one thing: I do believe humans are naturally aggressive. We don’t learn aggression as kids. We learn how to channel it, sure. But the impulse is with us from the beginning – possibly from the first time we bite down on the nipple that feeds us and relish the drama of our mama’s response.
Here’s one example. Gardening has the rep of a peaceful, earth-loving, nurturant activity. And it is. You plant stuff. It grows. Beauty and yumminess ensue.
But gardening has its dark side, too – and I don’t mean the gorgeous black of the leaf mold I hauled into my veggie patch today (although it was very dark, rich and crumbly). What I mean is that in order to bring forth life, you have to kill.
Sometimes the killing is regrettable. A dear friend tilled my garden this afternoon, and now my veggie patch is ready to plant. I’m so grateful. The dirt looks wonderful. But I know that the motorized tiller shredded some of my slippery little friends, the earthworms. That makes me sad. If I were robuster, I could dig the garden by hand and most of them would be spared. But I’m not, and so the worms paid the price.
Sometimes, though, the killing is practically lustful. Yesterday I started pulling out some weeds in the perennial bed. For years, those weeds have had the upper hand. I guess since they’re perennial, too, they’ve felt right at home. It’s the perennial bed, right? But I’ve got some coneflower seedling that I want to put in there, and so I set myself against the thicket.
I started off thinking I’d work for fifteen or twenty minutes. I wouldn’t overdo it. I’d protect my back and my overall energy. I’d stay mindful of a slow gardening philosophy.
Then I started following the runners that connected these particular weeds – and the only thing I was mindful of was the next plant’s root system and where its runners might lead. In other words, I began to act like the mildly obsessive gal you know from this blog. I dug and flung dirt. I yanked or eased the underground city of runners into the light. I practically chortled when I lifted a big maze of roots.
The only word for it? Aggression. Afterward, I felt just a little bit of catharsis. That is, until I discovered a few more of those bastards in the bed this afternoon.
If you think this all sounds a bit red in tooth and claw, just wait until the slugs grow thick and I start grinding them between a couple of stones. (I found one today and had mercy; I only pitched it out of the bed. Hard.) By August, I’ll be chasing down cucumber beetles with a dust buster at dusk. I once even killed a firefly that was on my purple pole beans before I knew what I was doing. I still feel bad about that. I love fireflies. I mistook it for an enemy of my beans.
This is the not-so-gentle side of organic gardening: You frequently come head-to-head with the critters. Maybe you admire the cute polka-dots on the cucumber beetle or the sheen of the Japanese beetle’s carapace. Maybe you recoil at a grub’s grubbiness. And then you ruthlessly take their animal lives in order to protect the plants you’ve nurtured since they were inert seeds. Just possibly, you feel regret. But chances are, even if you’re a non-hunting, anti-Nugent-y peacenik like me, you feel a little satisfaction and release not just in the beauty that results, but in the catharsis of aggression.
So I don’t think we should be sanguine about human nature. We are indeed animals. But we’re animals who can learn. After all, I don’t treat my kids, husband, or parents like those cucumber beetles. Then again – this evening, the Tiger was wielding the dust buster pretty wildly, and it’s a wonder he didn’t whack anyone with it.