Michael KreponGardening and Arms Control

I contend, as readers of these posts know, that being a Red Sox fan is helpful training for the profession of arms control. So, too, is gardening.

At the ripe old age of 68, Thomas Jefferson wrote,

I have often thought that if heaven had given me a choice of my position and calling, it should have been on a rich spit of earth, well watered, and near a good market for the productions of the garden. No occupation is as delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. Such a variety of subjects, some one always coming to perfection, the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another… But though an old man, I am but a young gardener.

Arms control, like gardening, is a deeply imperfect enterprise, riddled with false hopes, less-than-anticipated results, and endless frustration. Success, when it occurs, can be fleeting; real triumphs build up over time, and are greatly cherished. Positive outcomes are balm for the soul. But one can’t be in this line of work for the percentages.

Spring evokes great possibilities for the garden. The weeding comes later. Optimism and perseverance are keys to the twin enterprises of arms control and gardening; when mulched with pragmatism and experience, the results become more rewarding. Cynicism and defeatism do not improve soil quality, nor do they reduce nuclear dangers.

I am beholden to Janet Lembke for introducing me to Jefferson’s quote. Her book, Touching Earth, ends with the following lines:

Touching earth is a potent metaphor for renewing strength in all endeavors… It is also an act capable of restoring vitality, of healing … What Jefferson says is gospel. The body ages, but the spirit retains a youthful resilience. Touching earth is more effective than any fountain of youth or cucumber poultice for keeping the senses vigorous and encouraging the sweet rage of imagination. As he says, perfection is ever imminent, and success does repair failure. Best of all, hope springs ever green, ever seductive in the gardener’s heart.

I am living proof of the restorative powers of touching earth, here at the base of Tom Mountain in the Blue Ridge. We have cows for neighbors across the road.


  1. FSB

    There are a lot more weeds in arms control than in gardening.

    Apologies for my cynicism and defeatism.

    Have a great weekend, all! 😉

    In the end, arms control will fail, and the jungles will take over the gardens.

  2. Steven Dolley (History)

    President “Bobby”: Mr. Gardner, do you agree with Ben, or do you think that we can stimulate growth through temporary incentives?
    [Long pause]
    Chance the Gardener: As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.
    President “Bobby”: In the garden.
    Chance the Gardener: Yes. In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.
    President “Bobby”: Spring and summer.
    Chance the Gardener: Yes.
    President “Bobby”: Then fall and winter.
    Chance the Gardener: Yes.
    Benjamin Rand: I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we’re upset by the seasons of our economy.
    Chance the Gardener: Yes! There will be growth in the spring!
    Benjamin Rand: Hmm!
    Chance the Gardener: Hmm!
    President “Bobby”: Hm. Well, Mr. Gardner, I must admit that is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I’ve heard in a very, very long time.
    [Benjamin Rand applauds]
    President “Bobby”: I admire your good, solid sense. That’s precisely what we lack on Capitol Hill.

  3. Andrew Tubbiolo (History)

    ….“Being There” comes to mind. Peter Sellers seems to pop up a lot in the field of nuclear arms.

  4. Laura DeVault (History)

    May all involved in arms control decisions find their hands in the soil this spring.

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