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Second Nature: A Gardener's Education (Anglais) Broché – 12 août 2003


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Extrait

Introduction

This book is the story of my education in the garden. The garden in question is actually two, one more or less imaginary, the other insistently real. The first is the garden of books and memories, that dreamed-of outdoor utopia, gnat-free and ever in bloom, where nature answers to our wishes and we imagine feeling perfectly at home. The second garden is an actual place, consisting of the five acres of rocky, intractable hillside in the town of Cornwall, Connecticut, that I have been struggling to cultivate for the past seven years. Much separates these two gardens, though every year I bring them a little more closely into alignment.

Both of these gardens have had a lot to teach me, and not only, as it turned out, about gardening. For I soon came to the realization that I would not learn to garden very well before I'd also learned about a few other things: about my proper place in nature (was I within my rights to murder the woodchuck that had been sacking my vegetable garden all spring?); about the somewhat peculiar attitudes toward the land that an American is born with (why is it the neighbors have taken such a keen interest in the state of my lawn?); about the troubled borders between nature and culture; and about the experience of place, the moral implications of landscape design, and several other questions that the wish to harvest a few decent tomatoes had not prepared me for. It may be my nature to complicate matters unduly, to search for large meanings in small things, but it did seem that there was a lot more going on in the garden than I'd expected to find.

I began gardening for the same reasons people usually do: for the satisfaction of pulling bunches of carrots from one's own ground; the desire to make a patch of land more hospitable or productive; the urge to recover a place remembered from childhood, and the basic need to keep the forest from swallowing up one's house. When my wife and I bought our first place in 1983--a sliver of a derelict dairy farm on the eastern edge of the Housatonic Valley--we had been living in Manhattan for some time, in an apartment that receives approximately ninety minutes of sunlight a day, and the prospect of growing a few flowers and vegetables seemed exotic. There was also the matter of the advancing forest, which did in fact threaten to engulf our house, a little cape that had been assembled from a Sears, Roebuck kit in 1929. I had to do something--either mow the weed patch that passed for a lawn, or put in a real garden-if I hoped to keep the woods at bay.

So I guess you could say the forest made me do it. But there was also, mixed in with my motives, the recollected satisfactions of childhood gardens. Growing up on Long Island in the early 1960s, I'd cared for a succession of pocket gardens in various corners of my parents' suburban plot, and had spent many Saturdays helping out my grandfather in the much grander garden he tended a few miles away (Chapter 1 is a reminiscence of these places). Now I had some ground of my own, and gardening it seemed a natural way to spend my weekends, something I might even have a knack for.

Judith had other ideas. Though her position would eventually soften, she started out a sworn enemy of gardening, having been forced as a child to do yard work. I think she was also less troubled by the derelict parts of our property than I was, finding beauty in the march of brush across an abandoned hay field, or the rank, top-heavy growth of an apple tree in need of hard pruning. So she began making landscape paintings and I, with somewhat less striking results, began making landscapes.

* * *

It wasn't very long before I discovered I was ill-prepared for the work I'd taken on. The local New England landscape--a patchwork of abandoned farms swiftly being overtaken by second-growth forest--proved far less amenable to my plans for it than the tame suburban plots of my childhood had. Here were large and rapacious animals, hegemonies of weeds, a few billion examples of every insect in the field guide, killing frosts in June and September, and boulders of inconceivable weight and number. But there were obstacles of a very different kind that proved just as vexing: the unexamined attitudes toward nature that I'd brought with me to the garden.

Like most Americans out-of-doors, I was a child of Thoreau. But the ways of seeing nature I'd inherited from him, and the whole tradition of nature writing he inspired, seemed not to fit my experiences. In confronting the local woodchucks, or deciding whether I was obliged to mow my lawn, or how liberal I could afford to be with respect to weeds, I was deep in nature, surely, but my feelings about it, although strong, were something other than romantic, or worshipful. When one summer I came across Emerson's argument that "weeds" (just then strangling my annuals) were nothing more than a defect of my perception, I felt a certain cognitive dissonance. Everybody wrote about how to be in nature, what sorts of perceptions to have, but nobody about how to act there. Yet the gardener, unlike the naturalist, has to, indeed wants to, act.

Now it is true that there are countless volumes of practical advice available to the perplexed gardener, but I felt the need for some philosophical guidance as well. Before I firebomb a woodchuck burrow, I like to have a bit of theory under my belt. Yet for the most part, Americans who write about nature don't write about the garden--about man-made landscapes and the processes of their making. This is an odd omission, for although gardening may not at first seem to hold the drama or grandeur of, say, climbing mountains, it is gardening that gives most of us our most direct and intimate experience of nature--of its satisfactions, fragility, and power.

Yet traditionally, when we have wanted to think about our relationship to nature, we have gone to the wilderness, to places untouched by man. Thoreau, in fact, was the last important American writer on nature to have anything to say about gardening. He planted a bean field at Walden and devoted a chapter to his experiences in it. But the bean field (which I talk about in my chapter on weeds) got Thoreau into all sorts of trouble. His romance of wild nature left him feeling guilty about discriminating against weeds (he rails against the need for such "invidious distinctions") and he couldn't see why he was any more entitled to the harvest of his garden than the resident woodchucks and birds. Badly tangled up in contradictions between his needs and nature's prerogatives, Thoreau had to forsake the bean field, eventually declaring that he would prefer the most dismal swamp to any garden. With that declaration, the garden was essentially banished from American writing on nature.

I think this is unfortunate, and not just because I happen to stand in need of sound advice in the garden. Americans have a deeply ingrained habit of seeing nature and culture as irreconcilably opposed; we automatically assume that whenever one gains, the other must lose. Forced to choose, we usually opt for nature (at least in our books). This choice, which I believe is a false one, is what led Thoreau and his descendants out of the garden. To be sure, there is much to be learned in the wilderness; our unsurpassed tradition of nature writing is sufficient proof of that. But my experience in the garden leads me to believe that there are many important things about our relationship to nature that cannot be learned in the wild. For one thing, we need, and now more than ever, to learn how to use nature without damaging it. That probably can't be done as long as we continue to think of nature and culture simply as antagonists. So how do we begin to find some middle ground between the two? To provide for our needs and desires without diminishing nature? The premise of this book is that the place to look for some of the answers to these questions may not be in the woods, but in the garden.

* * *

Though this book is not a polemic, it is full of argument: between me and this vexing piece of land, and also between me and some of the traditional ways of looking at nature in America; I find I spend a lot of time arguing with Thoreau. Many of these arguments don't get settled; this book is an exercise in discovery rather than truth telling. It is, as I say, the story of an education, and, as will be clear from the high incidence of folly in these pages, I remain more pupil than teacher. I know more at the end of my narrative than I did at the beginning, and for the most part I have followed the logic of my experiences, as they unfolded season by season, rather than that of any thesis. Even so, there is, I think, threading through this book (and spelled out in some detail in Chapter 10), a single underlying argument: that the idea of a garden--as a place, both real and metaphorical, where nature and culture can be wedded in a way that can benefit both--may be as useful to us today as the idea of wilderness has been in the past. This might strike readers as a rather unfashionably optimistic notion. In fact I share the general sense of alarm about our environment; I do not, however, share the gathering sense of despair. I find, in the garden, some grounds for hope.

What are my qualifications to write such a book? Certainly I am no expert--not on gardening, or nature, or much of anything else, for that matter. This is very much the enterprise of an amateur. My sole qualification (if it may be called that) is the wager I decided to make at the beginning of this project: that gardening might be worth taking seriously, and that, closely attended to, it might yield some good stories and helpful ideas. Yet I suspect that once I began to garden, this book was probably inevitable. As most gardeners will testify, the desire to make a garden is often followed by a desire to write down your experiences there--in a notebook, or a letter to a friend who gardens, or if, like me, you make your living by words, in a book. Writing and gardening, t... --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.

Revue de presse

"Second Nature is...as delicious a meditation on one man's relationship with the Earth as any you are likely to come upon...."
--The New York Times Book Review

"Usually when Americans have wanted to explore their relationship to nature they've gone to the wilderness, or the woods. Michael Pollan went to the garden instead...and he's returned with a quirky and pleasing book....The debut of a fresh and provocative voice in American writing."
--Annie Dillard, author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and An American Childhood

"Superb....One of the distinguished gardening books of our time."
--USA Today

"A joy to read...[Pollan] writes with humor, acerbity, magnanimity...and all those good qualities that lead to charm and--one almost dares say it--wisdom."
--Los Angeles Times --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.


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My first garden was a place no grown-up ever knew about, even though it was in the backyard of a quarter-acre suburban plot. Lire la première page
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Couverture | Copyright | Table des matières | Extrait | Quatrième de couverture
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95 internautes sur 98 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A fresh exploration of gardens and what it means to garden. 24 novembre 1996
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Many of us fall into the trap of thinking that our relationship to the land must be one of either two choices: either we ruthlessly exploit it, with no regard for any but short term use, or we refuse to "meddle" in it at all, letting nature do what it will. _Second Nature_ explores the third alternative, that of working with nature respectfully to produce something that we intend. Believing that our relationship with nature can not be broken down into simple nature versus culture arguments, Pollan explores the overlapping of nature and culture. To that end, he discusses Americans' historical and contemporary ideas of what makes a garden a garden and attitudes toward gardening and wilderness. There is wonderful, thought-provoking commentary on the tyranny of the American lawn, the sexuality of roses, class conflict in the garden, privacy, trees, weeds, and what it means to have a green thumb. Pollan's stories of his own adventures in the garden are interesting and often amusing. His writing is thoughtful and his insight frequently unexpected, as when, in the chapter " 'Made Wild by Pompous Catalogs' ", he points out that garden catalogues are selling not merely seed but their ideas about gardens. Pollan is also highly readable. It is hard not to like an author who says things like "...the Victorian middle class simply couldn't deal with the rose's sexuality" or "...there is a free lunch and its name is photosynthesis". _Second Nature_ is well worth reading
124 internautes sur 131 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
What a fun book! 14 mars 2000
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
I read this book for a college course, "Religion, Ethics, and the Environment." Most of the books were (as the course title suggests) very heavy texts...yawn. However, when assignments from Pollan's book came up, I would laugh out loud while reading. My classmates & I would discuss the book at any given opportunity, and the bookstore sold twice as many copies as there were students in the class, because we recommended it to everyone. How many philosophy books can you say that about?
Pollan makes his philosophical points with vivid stories from his childhood on Long Island and his adult experiences in his garden. His garden-centered view of nature provides an excellent counterpoint to most environmental philosophy, which has been written from a preservationist's point of view.
63 internautes sur 66 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
What to Buy a Gardener during the Winter 6 décembre 2005
Par elanorh - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
I really enjoyed this book. I grew up in a family which gardens, and have my own garden today. I also grew up in an agrarian family, and went on to get a master's in cultural anthropology - all that to say, I suppose I am well-suited to enjoy Pollan's perspectives.

I don't agree with everything he wrote, but I do agree with most of it. And the book is very well-written, very entertaining, and it really makes the reader pause to consider choices made in their own life.

So much of the information about gardening is "how-to", and this book delves into the philosophy, the motivations, the rationales, and the environmental impacts of gardening .... It's written on a higher level, and as worthwhile for readers as the "how to" books, too.

I highly recommned this book - for those who enjoy gardening, and also for those who are concerned about the environment. Pollan will be a good read for both.

I absolutely disagree with the previous reviewer who disparaged Pollan's take on the environmental movement as a whole. Perhaps that person is so deeply enmeshed in environmental causes that he can't see the big picture- but for me, the big picture looks much more as Pollan describes it, than not.
26 internautes sur 27 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
grass is overrated. 7 décembre 2005
Par M. Riley - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
This was probably the first book I read that dealt with relations to nature on a practical and philosophical level. I'm not sure if Pollan counts as a philosopher, but the views he presents are very accessible and bring a lot into question.

I've heard his writing described as piecey, which surprised me. I will agree that the seperation of the chapters into seasons didn't really seem to fit, but ignoring the headers fixed that problem. Overall it was an enjoyable and informative read. There's a very strong sense of humor that runs through the whole book and many good points are made.

Anyone interested in gardening would love this book, and I think that anyone interested in environmental issues or ethics would too. It's a good place to start off if you've ever wondered about societal attitudes to the land but wavered on learning more by the writing style of people like Emerson or Singer.

I was so pleased reading this book that I bought Pollan's A Botany of Desire, as well, and though the check-out girl gave me a funny look because of the title, it was well worth it.
100 internautes sur 119 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Waiting to exhale.... 16 février 2001
Par Dianne Foster - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
SECOND NATURE by Michael Pollen is a collection of esays that are not always well-connected or well-written. Mr. Pollen has won awards for his essays and some of them are quite good, however, the book is uneven. I think many of the readers who provided glowing reviews must have concentrated on the front half of the book which is autobiographical and hysterically funny.
NATURE contains several distinct sections Pollan calls "Spring-Summer-Fall-Winter" but his essays do not "follow" the gardening year. For example, "Fall", the third section of the book is about the destruction of Cathedral Pines, a nature preserve owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy in Connecticut. Mr. Pollan thinks the local town folk (he is one) should have decided "what to do" in the aftermath of the storm which toppled the old pine trees that had inhabited the Cathedral Pines since the days of the American Revolution. Pollan would have done better to call this section "Why I think I understand Mother Nature better than the Nature Conservancy." And, maybe he does, but his essay is angry, and his anger affects his argument. After reading his essay, I am not persuaded the Nature Conservancy failed since Pollan fails to provide their side of the argument which might have been quite reasonable.
The best part of Pollan's book contains his autobiographical essays about life with his father who refused to mow the lawn much to the consternation of his upscale neighbors; life with his maternal grandfather who made mega-bucks as a professional gardener and green grocer; and Pollan's own attempts to take up gardening as an avocation. Anyone who has ever gardened will enjoy these sections because as all good gardeners know, most folks learn through trial and error. Mr. Pollen says there are few "Green Thumbs" i.e. Green thumbs exist, but they are rare.
The book is laced with historical factoids--an eclectic assortment of information Mr. Pollan gleaned from many articles and books by garden/nature and other writers including James Frazier, Thoreau, Emerson, Alexander Pope, Henry Mitchell, Eleanor Perenyi, Allen Lacey, Elizabeth Lawrence, and Katherine White who wrote garden essays for the New Yorker magazine. Mr. Pollen is advertised on the jacket of his book as an "Executive Editor" of Harper's magazine, and as I read his book, I formed an image of him snipping bits and pieces from the various articles and books he edited over time and sticking them together, i.e. a cut and paste job. Mr. Pollan's book needed a better editor, and I haven't read such an entertaining, provocative and frustrating book in a long time.
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