The Last Sanctuary by Perry Mann

Perry Mann is sending me his remarkable newspaper articles which I hope to incorporate into a book–his writings and L. T. Anderson’s need to be preserved. Those two are both natives of Hinton, West Virginia, and of the same generation.

THE LAST SANCTUARY

Capitalism is dedicated to chain-sawing the last tree, excavating the last ounce of ore, drilling for the last drop of oil, hard-selling the superfluous to the fastidious, addicting the world to tobacco, sugar, salt and grease and all the variations thereof, through the agency of amoral, global corporations whose CEOs are either obliviously obtuse with regard to the irreparable damage they do to nature and thus to all life or they are so fixated on profit they don’t look beyond tomorrow. And Bush II [President George W. Bush] with smirk and swagger and piety is leading America to an endless imperialistic crusade in the center of the Islamic world thereby provoking and inspiring millions of Taliban-minded Muslims to suicidal vengeance—and is pursuing fiscal policies that will make the rich richer and poor poorer, put America deeper in debt and precipitate class warfare. The future is worrisome and scary.

But I have a garden, a sort of secular sanctum sanctorum, where I can retreat, and in partnership with nature, facilitate the miracle of seeds and thus continue the story of the man with the hoe and of his struggles against drought and flood, frost and heat, deer and shrews, beetles and bugs and all other adversities and predators—and of his rewards of lettuce and onions, peas and new potatoes, beans, beets, broccoli, squash and melons and the whole cornucopia of a cultivated garden.

For most gardeners this spring has been an unprecedented frustration. It was too cold. Then, it was too cool and too wet. Then it was just too wet. Many gardeners do not have a garden planted yet and it is the middle of June. But I have the most luxuriant, productive garden I have ever had. Even now I have an abundance of new potatoes and peas, onions and lettuce, spinach, kohlrabi, chard, and have had asparagus and rhubarb. My corn is deep green and waste high, the beans are blooming and so are the cucumbers. The beets are beginning to swell in the root. The squash family is up and growing. Sweet potatoes are looking for a place to spread. And I have planted 50 strawberry plants, which, once out of hibernation’s dimness in the seed company’s storage vault, were hungry for the sun and showed it by beginning to leaf out in less than a week.

When I was a kid with a hoe cultivating my grandfather’s mountaintop farm of steep and rocky fields, I could see, in the distance, fields of flat alluvial soil flanked by the Greenbrier River. I have ever since dreamed of gardening in such a field. The dream has become reality. I now have a bottom-land garden flat and rock free with soil so loose and friable I can push a rod a foot into it with ease. But the sandy soil has a deficiency of humus and when drought comes plants suffered quickly.

The remedy is manure. Last fall I hauled six or so truck loads of manure to it and spread the manure on the sandiest parts of the garden. This spring, among other seedings, I planted two rows of potatoes in the manured soil and one row of potatoes next to them in the unmanured part of the garden. I have taken pictures of the difference, because I knew that no one would believe my word, even if it were under oath. The word is, and it is an understatement, extraordinary. The manured potatoes have not only melded into one row but have encroached on a row of peas to such an extent that they have are all but smothered them. And not only have the vines taken over but the yield of potatoes at this early date is something for Believe it or Not. I depose that every kind of seed that was planted in the manured soil has, with all the rain, flourished competitively with the potatoes. My Eden is not only green and growing but flat and rockless, a sanctuary amid the world’s troubles and a place of pleasing placidity.

Nature, which is the concatenation and aggregate of all material causes and effects from Day One and thus the accumulated culture of all life, is where I place my faith and pledge my allegiance; for if man forsakes nature, nature will forsake man, and then he is history; and he will terminate in a monumental interment of a species extinguished by profligacy and conceit.

When women prevailed and men gave up the nomadic and predatory life and turned to planting and gathering, the gardener evolved alongside the hunter. When I was a child I was an avid hunter and a reluctant gardener. As a man, I have no gun, only a hoe. I consider the evolution from hunter to gardener natural and in keeping with the history of man. But farms in this state have for the most part returned to nature and the DNR has populated them with deer and turkeys and all else and thus has favored the hunters to the detriment of the gardeners.

Deer to the gardener are an unmitigated and voracious plague. They can undo the work and dreams of a gardener in a night. In August when gardens are filled with produce and the deer have eaten everything in the wilds, they come in herds. And whatever is green they will devour, except garlic, so far. Also last summer the beavers discovered ripe sweet corn, and under cover of darkness, the thieves made way with nearly all of it. Then there are the crows, blackbirds, coons and mice, et al.

But I always get something for my efforts. And since there is not much I can do to defeat the predators, I take comfort in the philosophy that the trip is often more exciting and rewarding than the destination. So every January I look through the seed catalogues and when spring comes, I am at the garden with hoe and seeds eager for another season of agrarian war and peace—at a work I feel is my real and only calling and at a place that is my last sanctuary.

Voltaire ended his days as a gardener. I would have guessed it even if I hadn’t read it.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to Amazon.com to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (wvhighlands.org), and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation (ksff.org). I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at martinjul@aol.com or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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