Roman Fresco from Pompeii
The wall is a limen or boundary. On the hither side of the wall is Nature, free and luxuriant. On the hither side of the wall is the cultivated ornamental tree. The fruit seems to produce itself on the thither side of the wall. The ornament is beautiful, but Nature, the fecund lady who feeds men and women and their children, is bountiful. She responds to the farmer’s bargain: Let me understand your cycles and placate your demands and I will increase your fecundity. Agriculture is the productive compromise between Nature and Culture, to the benefit of both. The two-thousand-year-old wall-painting from a middle-class house in Pompeii speaks magnificently of the Western idea of Nature, with whom humanity partners, for the sake of her survival, and its — that is to say, our — survival. Christ does not disrupt this discipline.
The hither side of the wall might be brought into the thither side, to form a garden or grove. In Augustine’s Confessions, Original Sin finds its analogue in the autobiographer’s penitential divulgence that when an adolescent he joined with a gang of miscreants to trespass a neighbor’s orchard-garden and steal his apples, or peaches, or plums, or whatever the edible fruit might have been. Instead of consuming their booty, the trespassers petulantly discarded it, as though it was offal. Augustine begs forgiveness.
Augustine’s story is the germ of the Twenty-First Century’s ecological sensitivity, although the Twenty-First Century ‘s ecological sensitivity has no notion of Augustine or of confession or of the historical archive, witting knowledge of which tells us who we are.
To the west of Oswego, my adoptive civitas, the apple-orchards have benefited from three thousand years of Western horticultural science. These orchards nowadays resemble olive- or grape-orchards. The apple-trees are close to the ground, rounded, compact, and the fields of them look like vineyards or oleo plantations. The work of the harvest is much eased. The cultivated changes in apple-tree morphology entail a dramatic decrease in the price of harvesting apples. Respect for Nature is a boon. It is a Western boon.