Craig Nagel, columnist
Every so often, when the events of modern-day life threaten to shrivel my soul, I find refuge in reading the words of thoughtful people from earlier times. One of those people was Marcus Aurelius, ruler of Rome from 161 to 180 A.D. and known as the last of the Five Good Emperors. By nature a thoughtful and reflective person, Aurelius adopted the Greek philosophy of Stoicism, which taught that the wise live in harmony with the divine reason that governs nature and are thus indifferent to the ups and downs of fortune as well as to pleasure and pain.
Everybody knows the universe is a big place. What's hard to grasp is how big. A few years ago I bought my wife a telescope for Christmas, figuring she could check out the moon and a few planets and get a fix on a star or two and help fill in some of the gaping holes in our understanding of what's around us.
Now that the calendar shows us that spring is right around the corner, it seems fitting to offer some thoughts about America's most popular hobby: gardening. As we all know, gardening takes many forms, ranging from a single tomato plant growing in a rusting coffee can to experiments growing plants in straw bales or floating in water or climbing up the outside walls of skyscrapers.
Today's youth may be suffering a serious disconnect from nature, thanks in part to the proliferation of electronic substitutes for the real thing. TV shows, computer games, PlayStations and smartphones all conspire to keep us dissociated from the world around us, forming a sort of filter that prevents us from experiencing life directly. As a result, many of us—and especially our young—are living in what might be called a secondhand world.
"What if the United States had a plan to protect all of its wildlife, to give animals the space they need to survive and thrive? What would that plan look like? Mark Shaffer has an idea." So begins an article by Tom Dunkel in Nature Conservancy magazine that I recently reread. The idea, says Shaffer, resembles a bowl of spaghetti, "with meatballs and flecks of pepper." His dish includes strands of green space, flecks of mini wetlands and the occasional big-lump wildlife preserve.
Last month we took our granddaughter Grace down to the Guthrie Theater to see their 43rd annual production of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." On the way down we explained to Grace that the last time we'd been to the Guthrie was decades ago, when it was located next to the Walker Art Center, and that it had since been demolished and replaced by a new structure near the river. "We've heard the new building is pretty cool, but we've never been in it," we said. "We hope you like it."
Not long ago, while talking on the phone with an old friend who runs a bookstore in Minneapolis, the subject of "hygge" came up. "What's that?" I asked. "I never heard of it before." "I'm told it's a Danish word," said my friend. "I think it's pronounced either 'hig-guh' or 'hoo-guh,' and it has something to do with simple pleasures. All I know for sure is that I've sold several different books in the past few weeks with "hygge" in the title. It's really getting popular."
The basement of the house I spent my boyhood in was not a large one. Since Mom and Dad had added onto what had been a summer cottage, only the area beneath the addition was excavated. The dimensions of this space were approximately 16 by 20 feet; barely enough to house the furnace, Mom's wringer washing machine and laundry tubs, a sump pump, the water pump and a little workshop.
As we stand on the threshold of Thanksgiving and prepare to celebrate the bounty of another year, I herewith offer a list of things for which I'm grateful and urge you, dear reader, to compile a list of your own. 1. I am grateful to be alive. 2. I'm grateful to be in good health. (But even if I weren't, I think I'd still be glad to be alive.) I appreciate the opportunity to cultivate and to purchase and to eat nutritious food to support good health.
On a recent road trip out to Washington State and British Columbia, I found myself astonished by the beauty and variety of our continent. Not that this insight is anything new. My wife grew up near Seattle, and through the years we've driven or flown out there several times. We've also enjoyed visiting the San Juan Islands, the beautiful town of Victoria, B.C., and the world-class city of Vancouver. But this trip nailed home the fact that North America itself is a very special place, and those of us who live in it should consider ourselves very fortunate.