"Gardens and Grace" is the name of the conference, here at beautiful Kanuga in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The Celtic saints, the labyrinth, the dignity and value of native plants, garden poems of Thomas Traherne, the hospitality of the garden to the human soul, along with all the other souls to which it offers a welcome -- could anything be finer?
This morning, it is my turn to hold forth. My talk is called "We Who Are About To Die Salute You." This is a famous greeting, handed down to us from an awful place and time: the contests of gladiators to the death in the Roman arenas. All of them, gladiators because they were slaves or prisoners, few professional fighters among them, would face the emperor with this desolate shout: stubborn and utterly realistic. Within half an hour, at least half of them would be dead, and nobody knew which half. This was their last half hour of life. It was time to stand and deliver.
From the coliseum to the garden -- a considerable distance. But death is everywhere in the garden as well. The plants face us in their brief seasons, flowering to get our attention and the attention of the pollinators they so passionately desire. We haven't got forever. Visit us now, scatter the golden dust of our encoded selves into the crevices in which it will teach itself to the next generation. In only a few days, our edges will brown and we will be no more. Help us do what we came to do, and help us do it now.
Two sets of inevitable deaths. One is desolate and horrid, while the other seeds life all around it. We are committed to the second, committed to it in so basic a way that we find its engines -- the flowers -- irresistably attractive. This is the only weapon they have, and they use it for all it's worth. They use it all up, their beauty.
Might as well flower bountifully. Use up all your beauty here -- it's currency is only good here, and it only lasts a little while.
Ever been to Kanuga? It's one of the most beautiful places you will ever see, and there's a sweet, sweet spirit in this place. www.kanuga.org