Saturday, January 26, 2002

Garden Reflective-Devonian Gardens at Eaton's Centre, Calgary, Alberta

The Devonian Gardens seem damp and coolish. Outside the weather is foggy, snowy and dry--almost blizzard-like. Sitting on a bench, surrounded by other benches, I feel like this is less a garden and more a park. I see other people wandering around, looking for places to sit and eat their lunches. I can see the snow swirling madly around the screened glass windows outside. This garden is filled with trees that droop, trees that spread out and trees that grow tall. I can see small birds flying in amongst the botanical foliage of this garden. They are chirping, communicating with eachother. I also hear the rushing sound of water in the distance. This peaceful serenity, however, is disturbed by noisy crackling in the overhead pipes. It's disconcerting, to say the least. I smell food--perhaps roast beef. It reminds me that this garden is very much in an urban space. Still, the plants are beautiful and offer a respite from the cold -20C Canadian winter outside. Many exotics grow here including lilies, hibiscus, ficus and poinsettas. Ferns and ivy grow tidily between the flowers, surrounded by green bricked paths. Little signs bloom beside their respective plant or trees. The far wall also carries a dictionary of plant names, in latin, that are scattered around the place. The gardens themselves are well kept and fertilized. Colorful paper butterflies dangle suspended from the ceiling, swaying slightly in the air currents above. Couples walk hand-in-hand, seeking privacy. Everyone in here is searching for a private nook. I can see why this is a popular place for weddings. The atmosphere is calm, serene, exotic and lush. Things seem less rushed here, although everyone only on a lunch break is woefully aware of how little time they have to themselves to read, relax and eat. I remember coming to eat my lunch here too, thankful for the respite from the suits, briefcases and memos. I hear the shouts of children in the background and the commanding voices of their parents. Sometimes, during lunch, plays and musical ensembles are heard in this space. I have just wandered over to a pond. Koi and Rainbow trout, huge in size, swim lazily around the water fountains shooting mists into the air. They rush towards the people clustered around the edge in the hopes of food, which can be purchased for $1.00. Sculptures like the "Bird of Spring" adorn the garden and ponds, adding to its sense of constructedness. It is a piece of nature that has been tamed, shaped and crafted into someone's idea of beauty. Concrete pillars, elevators and fire alarms rudely interrupt this landscape. Foot traffic is beginning to pick up. Luch hour is approaching. Still, the sound of the water drowns out most of the conversation so that only a murmur can be heard. A strange brown, round, metal construction sits beside my bench; perhaps to hold potted plants. People are beginning to stream into the garden and fill up all the benches. I now see more people than space. I feel like I am losing my train of thought--the garden has suddenly become too crowded and noisy.

Sunday, January 20, 2002

The Hound of Baskervilles-Arthur Conan Doyle

When I began to read this article, I was struck by the notion that I was thoroughly enjoying my read. I was snuggled down in one of the big leather armchairs of the Hart House library, close to a cozy heat vent, with a window to the outside view just a glance away, submerging myself into this mystery when it abruptly ended. Chapter eight. What happened to chaper nine? Why only the first eight chapters? I was struck by the oddness of it and secondly by its apparent immaterialness to the course. Later as a thought about the exerpt more, the only explanation I could come up with related to the detailed description of the moors. Doyle was writing during the Victorian period, characterized by an abhorence of nature and a marked separation between the civilized and savage. Doyle's description of the dark, untamed moors in is completely fitting, in this sense. I argued with myself over the possiblity that Doyle described the moors in this way to set the mood for his book or as an unintentional contrast with the civilized, reasoned, deductive atmosphere of London. Perhaps both explanations are possible or pehaps I am imagining a connection when there really is none. In that case, my question would be, what is the point of it all?

The Ascent of Man-Donald Worster

I found this article to be an interesting read after the exerpt from the "Hound of Baskerville." In fact, some of the ideas presented in this paper prompted me to carry some of them over into my analysis. I had not realized how diametrically opposed many of the Victorian age were to the idea of nature. Their fierce attempts to civilize nature strike me as odd, yet understandable. Humans have react instinctively, almost, in their approach to the unknown and hence the dangerous: subdue it. In this way I could understand the strong Christian desire to civilize the savages and study anthropology as a way to justify their strong belief in civilization. We too, in this day and age, are apt to tame that which we do not understand or fear. For example, genetics is a way to control and tame those savage diseases that have plagued "civilization" for years. I would agree with Worster's conclusion that science and technology are a declaration of independence from the natural world. In some respects, it still is. Many of us still feel that humans are better designers than nature, which is why we attempt to correct it through conservation programs, tissue grafts and genetic manipulation. Indeed, nature is prone to errors, weaknesses and imperfections...a thought that we have not come to far from since the Victorian age. The idea of creating paradise on earth is stil alive and well--why do we build expensive hotels on the beaches of tropical places if not to escape the "hell" of everyday life?

On the other hand, another voice was also making itself known during this period: that of Darwin and Salt. Both realized that domination of nature not only disconnected us from our past but also was ethically corrupt. Humans, instead of being the omnipotent creatures we have come to see ourselves as, are part of a dynamic, interconnected web of life on earth. Nature is not merely primal and violent but possess some of those higher virtues found in humans, such as love and sympathy, according to Darwin. The real morality, according to Henry Salt, lay in the kinship we share with all living things. This sentiment echoes quite strongly with the theologies we studied in Redeming the Time. I think that we are experiencing a resurgence, of sorts, of this kind of sentiment. More people than ever before have chosen to become vegetarians, camp, take up wildlife causes and protest deforestation. What I take away from all of this then, is that as we struggle to integrate our knowledge of nature with our desire for civilization is that we have not yet come far from our Victorian ancestors.