52 Books a Year: #13 - Second Nature
Posted by Brian
Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education By Michael Pollan
Second Nature was Michael Pollan’s first book and also the first book of his that I have read. On the surface it describes his growth as a gardener from his childhood to the time the book was released, but into this story he weaves ruminations on the American relationship between nature and culture.
The book shines in its more philosophical parts. He describes a debate about what to do with a small local forest that burned down. Should it just be left to grow back on its own? Should it be cultivated into an orderly park? Was it really all that natural to begin with? It was an island of forest surrounded by civilization. If it should be returned to nature, which version? 19th century? Pre-Columbus? Pre-Native American? The point is that man too is part of nature and once we arrive there is no such thing as returning it to its natural state, indeed there never was such a thing. Nature is not static and attempting to enforce this on a space is also bringing it under man’s control, albeit less so than a suburban lawn, which he describes as “nature under totalitarian rule”.
Pollan envisions a garden as a place where we can meet nature halfway, enforcing a coherent and pleasing order in a way that works with nature. (It can also be the place to firebomb a groundhog hole.) If you are expecting a guide to gardening then this book isn’t what you are looking for, but if you are looking for inspiration in how to approach your garden, then Second Nature is a very worthwhile read.