Wednesday, September 9, 2009

To Smash Or Not To Smash

...That is the question for the Karmic Gardener.
Whether 'tis nobler to spare all creatures big and small in the name of compassion or to protect your beloved garden's plants, smashing all creatures big and small underfoot with the fury of a vengeful god and an overprotective mother rolled into one karmicidal death machine (which I'm sure the good people at Scotts/Miracle-Gro/Ortho are scrambling to reproduce in spray form; maybe I should copyright that while I still can: Karmicidal Death Machine©).
Every gardener I have known has established his/her own system for evaluating the rights of garden pests to exist beyond a smear on the bottom of a shoe. For some, there simply are no such rights for anything unfortunate enough to wander into the garden; these types can be found sitting on the front porch, shotgun in hand, waiting for their chance to demonstrate their inalienable sovereign right to blow sh*t up if it crosses that line between not-garden and garden. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who cannot bear to intentionally harm any living thing and will go to great lengths to avoid doing so while generally making every other gardener feel like a heartless, murdering piece of karmic trash, doomed to spend the next several lives as an indentured earwig with asthma and skin problems to pay for that earwig they just accidentally sat on.

Most fall somewhere in between.

The interesting part is how each gardener sets the scales of pragmatism and compassion to balance their usually arbitrary and illogical feelings towards each offending creature. One of the easiest ways to set these scales is to put all "harmful" animals in one pan and all "beneficial" animals in the other; basically, anything that harms your plants gets the firing squad and anything that eats those pests or just minds its own business gets salvation and a blessing. Thus a gardener that I know: sweetly shooting daggers my way anytime I disturb a spider's web ("beneficial"), trying to remedy the situation by sing-songing apologies to the poor little sweetie, and in the next moment snarling "goddamn snails" ("harmful") under her breath, smashing the offending abomination of a creature down on the ground and terminating the infraction with a well-placed, well-stomped heel. The problem is, by this line of thinking, those irksome but beautiful deer that frequent your salad-bar of a garden are as good as venison, and if there existed a garden clog big enough, they should be stomped with all the wrath and snarl due any other garden pest. Now, the idea of smashing a deer underfoot probably sent some shudders around and for this I apologize, but my point is that death and justice are not easily doled out by any logical system we establish because the act of killing is an emotional one and will always be affected by our irrational feelings. Why is the deer spared? Because it is more beautiful and closer to our own size than other pests and thus feels more like killing a fellow creature than does hosing off some aphids. Why do I smash the occasional spider? Because the big ones freak me the hell out and despite my homage to Buddhist tenets such as Karma and compassion, I cannot always shove aside the feeling that this fast, spindly thing in front of me is going to kill me if I do not kill it first. Conversely I feel absolutely no threat from a snail and actually think they are kind of cool; so if they want to munch on some leaves, so be it, I don't consider it a crime punishable by death.

I guess, beyond noble belief systems, what it comes down to is how you feel when you kill something. Are the feelings of guilt outweighed by feelings of justice being served? If not, then you probably won't drop the clog, so to speak. The karmic scale is already tipped against humans because of our size and lumbering, reckless ways; if I were to add up all the spiders I've killed by blundering into webs and then frantically brushing and slapping at my body like a drunken slapstick act, I would probably drop this whole Karma thing as damning beyond salvation. I can only hope that one time I held the elevator door for someone scores me some serious points to make up for this unavoidably murderous profession of gardening (at least I think I held the door...).


  1. I would happily smash bunnies underfoot if they would hold still for it. They've been cute for my whole life, until this summer, and then they ate the Gazanias. So they must pay.

  2. Dark side of gardening indeed! I always thought Maranta and Mr. Subjunctive got out their aggression in well-crafted verbal displays.... I'm no Freudian, but have noticed that arachnophobia is more of an issue for males than females, so I'll give Maranta a pass. I hope Mr. S was joking about those rabbits!

    I have no moral standing in this, as I only have deer as pests, and that problem is easily solved with deer-resistant plants.

    In my time I have proffered pie tins of beer to snails, only to discover empty shells in the tin the morning after. The raccoons had apparently enjoyed the marinated escargots. Would I do that again? Don't know.

  3. I wish I could say that I would never hurt a fly, but my guilty conscience has been eating at me.
    In the past two weeks I have:
    - ushered a small spider down the shower drain by cleverly diverting a flow of water his way, faster than he could attempt an impossible climb back up the tub's slippery sides (I did not appreciate him sharing my morning shower)
    - scooped up an unidentified, yet harmless looking bug from (again) my shower basin, only to flush him out with the dirty toilet water (it was 6am, I was naked)
    - captured a large spider in a glass, but because I was unable to identify it as either a "Large House" spider (freaky, but harmless) or a "Hobo" spider (still freaky, but harmFUL) the safest bet was to terminate it with a few spritzes of spider poison, which then caused it to spasm until it went still

    I regret prolonging the deaths of these insects, I really do. I wish, if I chose not to save them, that I would have just introduced them to the bottom of my shoe or a big heavy wad of toilet paper, smothering them quickly and surely.
    I wish that these bugs wouldn't bug me so much, either physically or emotionally as the case may be. But above all, I wish that they would just respect my morning shower and stay out of the bath tub!

    (P.S. fruit flies can go to hell)

  4. You make many interesting, thought provoking and entertaining points in your post but let me just cut to the chase:

    I hate spiders, too.

    When I was five (what were my parents thinking?) I saw that old black and white movie with the giant spider that eats people. Since then, spiders that are either large, as in bigger than my pinkie nail, or fast moving, as in moving at all, can actually make me break out in a cold sweat. Out of sight, out of mind, but if they invade my space, I happily, ah, invade their space back. And by that I mean kill them.

    But my husband likes them and actually coos at them when he relocates them from the bathroom to the garden, so back to the bigger picture: just marry your karmic opposite and the universe stays in balance.

  5. So well said!
    I recently had to make the decision to kill a varmint, and I am still wracked with guilt even though i know my choice was right - but I still think I am going to wake up after I die, and i will be trapped in an underground tunnel with giant gopher pumping in poison gas that chokes me until I pass out, then I wake up and the whole thing starts over again ... for eternity!

    Thank you for the perspective!

  6. I'll admit it - and with pride. I'm a gardener and I hate spiders.

    I used to hold my chicken up to spider webs (at arm's length) and watch as she effortlessly (and with great joy) gulped it down. No smear, no sound, no risk of it running out of a kleenex while I'm trying to grab it - nothing.

    I'm not as heartless as others might think, though - I save worms when it rains and they squirm out onto the sidewalk. I've done it for at least 40 years, so that ought to buy me some karmic forgiveness, right??