Monday, March 21, 2016

Garden Ethics in Colorado

This past weekend I spoke to some employees at Denver Parks and Recreation about naturalistic and native urban garden design, then headed to Pueblo for the Western Landscape Symposium to talk garden ethics. For this introvert it felt like a whirlwind trip. While in Colorado I visited some prairie dogs at a state park, took in art at the Denver Art Museum, and saw vintage aircraft at the Pueblo Weisbrod Aircraft Museum (I'd never seen a B29 -- wow). So, yes, I have eclectic tastes. :)

Denver Botanic Gardens
The WLS was humbling. I still can't figure out why people invite me, or even want me to come speak at their conferences -- my wife says I have impostor syndrome, because I also feel this way about garden design, but less often about writing (maybe it's because I've been writing for 22 years). Are Midwesterners inherently self effacing?

After my keynote address I had more people than I expected come up to me or stop me in the halls -- again, humbling. You want to talk to me? You enjoyed what I said? Really? One person said they'd never thought of gardening in the terms I put it -- ethics, climate change, extinction, empowerment, activism, social responsibility -- and now they were going to garden differently. Another said his wife had been working on him about the ideas I presented, and he thanked me, saying he was going to give in to her. A woman told me I kicked the audience's ass, and they needed kicking, and was thrilled to be kicked even as it stung a bit.

Finally, another woman came up to my table to purchase a book; I asked her what she thought of my talk and she said nothing. I looked up and her eyes were red, then she muttered something like "you really spoke to me." I can't remember what she said exactly, but after seeing her tears I felt like nothing else needed to be said. Ever. I've never had an experience quite like that. I taught college English for 15 years and many times students would break down in my office as we worked on an essay, me trying to push them to get at the deeper truth, the deeper story of their lives that would empower them in the class, and hopefully, beyond the class.

As a writer I don't often get to see how, or even if, my words make an impact. The one thing speaking does is help me more fully experience with others what it is I mean, what we mean, gardening during the anthropocene when the entire planet is a now a garden we have forcefully constructed and must now manage (and it's beyond us to manage it responsibly, I think, let alone economically feasible). I am exhausted and thankful for the long weekend -- just as I feel after taking a prairie hike or writing an essay.


Diana Studer said...

for what for why?
I imagine from reading what you write
that you are a spell-binding and entertaining speaker.
Whose name gets passed on, and who gets invited back next year.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Diana -- "For what, for why?" How do you mean?

Sadie said...

YES! YES! YES! I am thrilled you personally experienced the positive feedback you so richly deserve. Your writing about gardening and nature and the interconnectedness of everything is deeply moving & touches long-forgotten places in the souls of your readers. And the tears flow. And flow. Your writing is the catalyst that wakes up the connection to nature and the world that most of us have lost. This can work miracles. For me, my newly remembered connection to nature has been one of the few things that has given me the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other. That may sound cliche or overly dramatic, but it's absolutely true. I have been wading thru a very long and dark phase of life. The comfort, joy and wonder I am rediscovering as an adult now, communing with nature, make the continued struggle worthwhile. You are nature's Superhero :-) Keep flying!

Benjamin Vogt said...

Sadie -- Oh my, you have no idea how much this meant to me when I received it on a dark evening. I am so thankful to share my words with you and that they do, indeed, matter to some folks out there in the ether. We're in this together.

SueS said...

Yes Benjamin you touch people deeply with your writing and I only wish I was close enough to attend an event when you speak. I am moved and inspired and inside I rail against what we humans have done to our planet and the creatures and to ourselves. I try to do what I can in a small way thru my gardens and leaving open space on our small acreage for the native plants and creatures. I want to believe that if enough of us try to do better, even in small increments, then we will leave this planet better than we found it. Please keep reaching out and writing and speaking because we need to hear you--think of yourself as a drumbeat that speaks to many; although we may never meet or know each other--we still listen and learn and try to add to the drumbeat, strengthening it and spreading it near or far. Thank you!