The Garden at the Center

Members of the Church of Latter Day Saints believe that the Garden ofEden was originally located in Jackson County, Missouri. Mormons have taken a lot of ribbing recently, so I won’t give my opinion on the likelihood of that being true. However, research continues, trying locate the exact spot where Adam and Eve screwed everything up. Major consensus is that the Garden was located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, in ancient Mesopotamia.The Garden of Eden was very likely in or around Baghdad, Iraq.

Of course the Garden of Eden may not have been at all. However, more important than where it may have been, is what it may have been. When I think of the Garden, I see two naked people trying to hide behind a scrawny bush. But how did the authors of Genesis see it in their mind’s eye? What did the Garden of Genesis look like? Streams and waterfalls? What trees, fruits, flowers, animals did the authors and listeners imagine? What birdsongs, rushing water? The smell of rosemary? We know about the apple tree. Probably figs and olives and nuts, pomegranates. There would not have been waves of grain; that happened after The Fall.

The Garden stories look back to the time when we transformed ourselves from hunter-gatherers, eating what was given, into agriculturalists, toiling to coax food from dirt.

Simply gathering all the food we need from trees and bushes sounds great. No worries about draught or tomato blight or Japanese beetles or grubs or frost. Paradise.

When my friend Ladda was a girl, she walked to school from her home in Bangkok, plucking breakfast off fruit trees on the way. Now Bangkok is a congested hell of pollution and traffic. In many areas walking is impossible. Our friend Koi was killed in a rickety open cab used by people who cannot afford cars, a common occurrence. “Pave paradise, put up a parking lot,” says Joni. Or worse.

We know the life of hunter-gatherers was no picnic, but we do look back, long for, the beauty and harmony of a life we imagine existed before everything went wrong.

Genesis was written by Jews exiled in Babylon. The Persians had been building gardens there since 4000 BC. The authors heard about those gardens of ancient Persia: cool oases of trees, flowers, walkways, and graceful buildings built for royalty. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon is called one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, if it existed. Is that what they imagined, envied,  as they wrote in exile the story of their beginnings?

In Goshen (this Goshen, not that Goshen) we are struggling to build a garden on the steep slope on the south side of our barn. We wheel in dirt and leaf compost from other parts of the land, patch together holding walls of stone and logs, experiment with drainage. Plot the size and shape of each step. We drag a hose over to water plants, we weed, we build a fence to keep deer out and put row covers to keep birds off. We read seed packets. Not what I think of when I think of paradise….until. As the summer ends the slope is green, illuminated with the colors of flowers and vegetables. The smells of rosemary and tomatoes and dirt. We eat peas out of the pods; the cherry tomatoes are eaten before they get to the kitchen. We eat pickled beans and beets in winter.

Our garden is a rarity in the history of the world; if it fails, we go won’t starve. When we imagine Paradise, we are the royalty; we are not the hungry slaves cranking water from the Tigris up the steep slopes of the Hanging Gardens.

Did the Garden of Eden exist? What grew there? How did Adam and Eve spend their time if not weeding?

 If it did exist, it is a rubble of rock buried in desert now. What matters is the Garden those writers passed down to us. The longing for the beauty and harmony that was snatched from us. And that its loss was somehow our fault. The only thing that Adam and Eve had to do in the Garden was NOT eat an apple.  That’s like saying, “Don’t think of an elephant.” What a set up!  The odds were against us from the beginning.

We inherited the sense of its loss, and the hope of reclaiming that harmony. So we dig and plant, weed until our fingers hurt.  Because the Garden is here somewhere, if only we had eyes to see.