Garden vs. Apocalypse

Here’s a set piece, so to speak, written for the newspapers.  The title refers to Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, a fashionable book in my college years, and is a pun suggested by my friend, Fayette Hickox.  It was about the coming drastic changes wrought by the technological advances of the 60s, and had an apocalyptic quality to it.  However, it seemed to me alarmist—everything was “special”—which, of course, results in nothing being special.


The future is a bit inscrutable.  If we look at it up close, it has a way of becoming the present, and whizzing right past us like a kid on a skateboard.

Standing back, trying to get a broader view, we seem to be staring at a blank slate.  And a very large blank slate the future is, stretching into infinity in silence.  It doesn’t give up its secrets, nor invite us in.  We can’t even get on the guest list.  The future is like Greta Garbo, telling us, in effect, “I vant to be alone”.

The past is another matter.  If the future is Garbo, the past is Britney Spears.  Scenes from history dangle before us vividly, like baubles on a charm bracelet.

(Garbo—now she was special.  She didn’t seduce or even radiate so much as propagate light with a beauty more dazzling than the sun.  We sat in the movie theaters and grew the fungal plants that inhabit the souls of movie audiences.)

Archaic scenes unfold before us as if projected by a magic lantern.  Over here the pyramids, currently under construction; knights, in shining armor, prepare to joust; Columbus sailing the ocean blue; Marie Antoinette as a milkmaid; Saint Francis preaching to a congregation of animals; a caveman rubbing together sticks to create fire; a Chinese Empress with her coterie of eunuchs.  The past is an endless spectacle; the future doesn’t offer so much as a postcard.

Such visions of the future we can conjure are a pastiche of Jules Verne, Brave New World, “Bladerunner” and the Jetsons—picturesque but scarcely a roadmap of the not-yet. It seems that we should be able to think our way into the future.  After all, what’s the difference between the past and the future, other than this moment? “It’s an odd sort of memory that only looks backward,” says Lewis Carroll’s Alice.

The poor visibility afforded by the future is no barrier to the prophets among us.  Using a set of tools that includes stars, birds’ entrails, dreams, crystal balls, tea leaves and divine confidences, these seers have a backstage pass into the sanctum of the future.  They turn the question mark of the future into a gaudy chorus line of exclamation marks!!!

Prophets of today foresee a grim tomorrow.  Their visions are anything but paradisiacal.  They see the future not as a promising beginning but an ignoble end.  Dark, apocalyptic visions have never had it so good.  As at a cosmic buffet, you can select the end of the world that is most to your taste.  However, to bring out its full flavor, sprinkle with a grain of salt.

Today’s apocalyse menu includes a meteorite obliterating the planet, nuclear disaster, holy war, total economic collapse, global warming and the Rapture.

The psychics, preachers and gurus who make these prognostications always find a ready flock of believers, their bags packed and ready for doomsday.

One can see the appeal for the Doomsday Believers.  With a single stroke you can bundle all of life’s perils and uncertainties into a single oblivious package.  Call it “doubt consolidation”:

The flipside of the Apocalypse is … Paradise.  In this case, the future is immortality—an “everlasting” garden where no one hungers.  Whether Arcadia, Elysium, Utopia or Eden, paradises are invariably portrayed as vegetable gardens and pastures filled with game.  Apocalypses are primarily famines.  Get food right, and you’ve got at least “Paradise and Lunch”, as Ry Cooder nicely puts it.

Have no fear, dear readers, these apocalyptic visions too shall pass.  Armageddons come and go.  Meanwhile, you can find us in the paradise that is our garden.

The end of the world has a bright future.  I think I see it growing now.

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 29th, 2009 at 6:13 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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32 Responses to “Garden vs. Apocalypse”

  1. Erinn said:

    I enjoy reading your thoughts, and come away feeling educated and pleasantly challenged. In these trying times that certainly feel like an economic apocalypse, it’s a relief to be reminded of what is real–the life growing in our yards, the food we may plan to grow for ourselves–and feel a sense of place and cameraderie in the long line of those blessed to work any tiny patch of earth. As much or as little as any gardener may have “control,” it remains a comfort and a pleasure to work with life as it strives to express itself.

  2. John Merrill said:

    Dear Mr Bill,
    A lovely and poetic piece but Lord have mercy, man! There were so many gauzy references to the past and being finished tha I thought you were telling me the nursery was closing. My heart can’t take this! Please don’t ever frighten me so again.

    John C Merrill

  3. Tarah R. said:


  4. Terry said:

    Thank you for your view of the future.
    On a dismal winter day in MA and after reading the Arutz Sheva forum, I needed it.
    Thanks again.

  5. Susan said:

    I enjoy reading your well-written thoughts. You bring us back to the pleasures of the soul. Gardeners are the luckiest people on earth and we shouldn’t have to be reminded of it so often!

  6. Susan Wallace said:

    Sorry, but those of us who are experiencing climatic aberrations do not appreciate being lumped together with less scientifically grounded doomsayers! You owe meteorologists, geographers, physicists and other reputable prognosticators an apology! I hope you do not believe CO2 levels are normal and non-threatening, and were simply ranting.

  7. D Cross said:

    Enjoyed your message and just remember tomorrow is promised to no one so enjoy today!

  8. Carole Ferguson said:

    I just resigned my secure job that I despised. It is time to grow things, and I am totally clear that no apocalypse can prevent me from doing something with growing, children and health. So carpe diem just as we ask our gardens.

  9. Veronica said:

    What a wonderful and well written piece. Thank you for sharing it with all of us.

  10. Lee said:

    You are an excellent writer and thinker. I enjoy reading your work, but in my opinion, “fungal plants that inhabit the soul” is a bit of a stretch.

    Perhaps you would elaborate on that turn of phrase?


  11. Dave Roberts said:

    I guess I don’t read enough, but you have very nicely put your thoughts together and I felt better-briefly. Not to be a nay sayer, but I’ve recently read two books by Strauss and Howe regarding the recurring character of generations-past, present and a little bit of the future. “The Fourth Turning” was written in 1998 and predicts some things I care not to think about. But in fact the future is always bright, because we will get through damn near everything that comes our way, but first we have to endure the difficult times. What is more inspiring is that we will produce a generation that will meet the challenge. Being a Boomer as I suspect you are, the problem at the moment seems to be us. Great place for a Pogo reference here I suppose. The Boomers were there for the great “awakening” but now they’ve morphed into moralistic, in your face, we know what’s best, irrational people. Perhaps they should just step aside–quickly–and go plant that garden.

  12. frances oneil said:

    it is a discovery of soul in the garden

  13. Brett Austin said:

    Precisely…it is we who are the sentient beings and the troublemakers, and we have a responsibility to plant seeds, cherish them, help them grow, not even for our own selfish human wants, but for the true beautiful sanctity of living things. Ours is the doing, the responsibility, and the power

  14. isabelle said:

    After 9-11, what I kept saying to myself was: The sun and moon shall rise tomorrow no matter we do to ourselves and the bulbs we plant will bloom in the spring. It was very comforting.

  15. Patty said:

    “everlasting” Fabulous and I’m sure my perennial garden will be their. Oh!! and how I love Ry Cooder who can play for me in my “everlasting” garden while the breeze blows on my beautiful Thalicirum delavayi collection.
    Peace and harmony on earth and paradise “everlasting” xoxo 🙂
    Love you George Ball
    ps: Don’t let the newspaper die people keep on reading!!!!!!!!!!

  16. Bob Bisti said:

    Nice to hear some positive thoughts. It is so easy to get caught up in the 24hr news cycles of doom and gloom on these cold winter days with one show host after another telling the same story in their own way. For us garden people, we can get lost in our catalogs and garden sketches, and anxiously await the best time of year, spring. Its not putting your head in the sand, it is looking forward to the real promise which comes no matter what the market does. We can change neither, so as for me, I’ll go with the sure thing.

  17. M. J. said:

    Gee, I love your nursery; couldn’t we just leave it at that?

  18. George said:

    Merrilee – I’m so happy you love Heronswood. I shall back off the “off-the-wall” musings just for you. Thanks very much.

  19. Becky said:

    Always love your clear thinking and well expressed thoughts! Life is such a garden! Plant the seeds in the darkness of your consciousness today and after a time of germination they appear true to what was planted. Conscious inner planting can take us where we want to go.

  20. Mercer said:

    As we mature, I hope thats what we do, one tends to become somewhat cynical. As Erinn said,”it’s a relief to be reminded of what is real-the life growing in our yards”. I just turned 72 and yesterday had to put down one of three of my Golden Retrievers. What a loss of love I feel. Her ashes, along with my own will be put in my garden knowing that it will help my plants reach for the sun. For I believe that’s where we all orignated from. The one thing that gives me comfort in my loss is getting out in my garden, yes, I still do at my age, and working that soil, feeling the sun on my back as I continue to pull the weeds, standing back looking at the job I have done with the sweet smell of dirt on my hands. Yes, a lot has happened since the 50’s. and even tho our economy is almost about to collapse and we still have wars and global warming, I still have hope that we ALL will continue to grow into tomorrow; perhaps up there in space in our “paradise garden” where our bone meal has floated!
    Yes, George I enjoy with “relish” what you have written, keep up the good work!

  21. Glenn Parker said:

    Thanks, I enjoyed reading your comments.


  22. elspeth Bobbs said:

    Does anyone remember being frightened by a book, “”’Alas Babylon”? is planting a vegetable garden a way to feel better after a nightmare? Am I a grasshopper or an ant?. Most of us are probably anthoppers of grassants. Thanks for a good think.

  23. mark andrews said:

    although i’ve not heard the ry cooder song you mentioned i have been a fan of ry cooder for years and am surprised to hear you refer to him…most people have never heard of him …. i love the album ‘bop till you drop’….. i’ll have to look up the song paradise and lunch……..mda

  24. Liz Holtschneider said:

    Maybe we should remember what Candide said and ‘
    cultivate your garden.’

  25. Rose said:

    What a gift if we could only go backwards through time!!

  26. Maggie said:

    Each day is a gift, to garden is a joy,doomsday
    only remains in the minds of persons who fear to
    believe and are not brave enough to believe.

  27. REA said:

    Oh Amen to all that Mr. Ball. Tomorrow will take care of itself. I’ve ordered my new organic Tomato plants and their supports and in my mind , I can taste them already. Yummy!! The future is for us “dirty thumbers”, so get out there folks on the first warm Spring day, feel the sun on your back, inhale that rich earthy aroma and GET DIGGING!!

  28. JaLene B Hunt said:

    I agree about focusing on the good in the world whether it be gardening or anything else that lifts our spirits! What I didn’t agree with was the lumping in of (all) “psychics, preachers and gurus” into this doomsday scenario. My sister is an “intuitive reader” and she very much believes in personal responsibility and the great possibilities of our world. Be careful how you judge people or you will become the people who you wish to avoid. Peace, JaLene B Hunt

  29. Brian Vaughan said:

    I’m 62yrs. old, and have the advantage of coming from a humble background. My parents grew up during the “Great Depression” and survived the rationing during WWII, my father , the jungles of Burma. I’ve been weaned on the values of being frugal,self reliant,and tenacious.This present period of “economic uncertainty” will pass and we’re not going to curl up and die! Hell, this is a piece of cake compared to my two tours in Viet Nam. So get out those seed catalogues,draw up your garden plans for this spring, finish your winter pruning and think Green! Ain’t life great!!

  30. kbthmauro said:

    thank you for your email letter i have the heavy burden of picking up on these before they happen something soon will take place i live in a small town but the vibes i get from all over means something’s up please be in touch thank you

  31. T. Boyle said:

    Mr. Ball
    Congratulations to you. You have given hope to some who maybe running out of it. The future may look dim, but to those of us who find glory in our gardens there is hope for a better future as long as you see the trees leaf and the flowers bloom. The earth will also help feed you if you treat her with respect.

  32. Mike Savich said:

    If anything the future can bring, it is a microwave that will reheat coffee leftover from yesterday, and after doing so, will have a sensor so that the reheated coffee stops at the front of the oven for easier removal, rather than at the back of the oven, where it is such a pain to fetch it, and which makes for such a horrible start to the day.

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