Or, more appropriately, who domesticated whom? That relationship between plants and humans is the overall idea behind enviromental journalist Michael Pollan‘s The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World (Random House, 2001). Structurely, Pollan breaks it down into four sections, each matching a distinct human desire with the plant that fulfills it: Sweetness/Apple, Beauty/Tulip, Intoxication/Marijuana, and Control/Potato.
I’m not going to give a full summary, because I highly recommend this book and think the experience of Pollan’s masterful writing is better than my blogging. Instead, I’m going to share a selection of quotes I pulled that particularly resounded with me:
“In the best of all possible worlds we’d be preserving the wild places themselves…The next best world, though, is the one that preserves the quality of wildness itself, if only because it is upon wildness…that domestication depends. ‘In wildness is the preservation of the world,” Thoreau once wrote; a century later, when many of the wild places are no more, Wendell Berry has proposed this necessary corollary: ‘In human culture is the preservation of wildness.'”
“To take a leaf or a flower and use it to change out experience of consciousness suggests a very different sort of sacrament, one at odds with our loftier notions of self, not to mention civilized society…Even so, letting nature have her way with us now and again still seems like a useful thing to do, if only to bring our abstracted upward gaze back down to Earth for a time.”
“We’re unsure about our power in nature, its legitimacy, and its reality, and rightly so. Perhaps more than most, the farmer or the gardener understands that his control is always something of a fiction, depending as it does on luck and weather and much else that is beyond his control. It is only the suspension of disbelief that allows him to plant again every spring, to wade out into the season’s uncertainties.”
“Soil truly is a wilderness.”
“‘This is the assembly of life that it took a billion years to evolve,’ the zoologist E.O. Wilson has written, speaking of biodiversity. ‘It has eaten the storms–folded them into its genes–and created the world that created us. It holds the world steady.'”
Cover image: Random House.