Monday, April 19, 2010

`An Oak Leaf is a Thought'

At the community garden where we tend a plot sits a bench fashioned from recycled something-or-other with these words stamped on the back:

“Nature does nothing uselessly. Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC)”

"Oh, that Aristotle," one murmurs in relief. The line is from Politics, and wrenched from its context I’m not certain what the bench-endowers (among them, Starbucks) intend. As bumper-sticker wisdom it implies a vague purposefulness to the workings of the world. No frivolity, futility, contingency, capriciousness. No gratuitous beauty. It suggests fundamentalist Darwinism, the new determinism, and thus a misreading of Darwin.

Or maybe I’m reading too much into what is, after all, feel-good doodling on a feel-good piece of furniture, though feeling good has a certain usefulness. One arm of the bench, after all, has a hole in it large enough to hold a can of beer. If the Master Gardeners who run the show accept nominations for another thought on another bench I might suggest this from from Guy Davenport’s essay on Louis Agassiz:

“An oak leaf is a thought. It is a manifest idea. All of nature is some intelligent being’s meditation on being. And on becoming, one might add, but we need not limit ourselves to that angle of vision. The becoming is not growth but transformation. Oak, acorn; acorn, oak.”

It probably wouldn’t fit.


Reed Sanders said...

No doubt. But I prefer my oak leaves unauthored anyway. It probably won't be long before they all come with a patent number and a bar code.

Joe Keller said...

An oak leaf is a thought...

So too, then, is the tick born spirochete that kept one half of my heart from communicating with the other for 14 days...or the ever more rapidly dividing and conquering cancer cells that made the last 3 days of my father's life agony...or most certainly the lancet fluke, a parasite with no brain but an epic life story and for whom no ant would wax rhapsodic...

Odes about them wouldn't fit on park benches, either.