On Optimism

We just had a bout of horrendously hot weather – temperatures ticking over, degree by degree, into the 40’s. Celsius. Ouch. Somehow, for a change, we had the foresight to do some slow watering for two nights running on the vegetable patch, and thus lost nothing, though the loquat was looking a bit worse for wear. I do have the tendency to bury my head in the sand, not wanting to see the results of eyeball drying heat on our garden. If we lose plants, I will not emotionally invest in it, sustaining an ‘oh well’ kinda attitude to protect my heart against upset.  I dont want to talk about it, speculate on it, muse about it – it’s a waste of time, and it hurts.

Hence, one of my ultimate problems is my beloved and the fig trees.  Our fig plantation – the one that we had been worrying about – has been a source of conflict for the two of us.  I dont want to talk about it, as I’ve said before, and my honey wanders through saying disconsolatory comments like ‘it’s no good’, ‘that one’s dead’ ‘i think they are all dying’. My reaction is upset.  Don’t say it, baby, and it may not happen.

Well, the figs died.

Does that really bother us? Was it worth worrying about? Was the pessimism of ‘they’re dying’ worth even vocalizing  Was my optimism even worth holding onto, considering they died anyway? In a Buddhist way, we shouldn’t attach to anything, and I think we are fine with that – especially when nature is real, physical reminder of the deep truth that everything passes and nothing remains the same. Of course, I’d rather the figs didn’t remain small, and they became huge trees, but I also get that sometimes, trees dying is also about states of impermanence and things changing, around us, all the time. The height of summer here is a harsh reminder of that, as the beauty of spring’s growth becomes a bit weathered, yellowed and tired. It’ll come back, next spring.

As for optimism or pessimism, that’s not really Buddhism – because either state is reactionary, and things just are.  I see the world one way, Jim sees it another. It’s our view, not what it is. 

Yet the way we see the world is important. It’s a way of thinking about the garden, and life. It’s also a way of thinking about how I react to things, and whether an optimist approach is any better than a pessimistic one. 


Well, look at this haiku:

Now that my storehouse
has burned down, nothing
conceals the moon.

Mizuta Masahide 水田 正秀(みずた まさひで) trans. Yoel Hoffmann

So every upsetting death – every ‘it’s not good’ moment is actually a time for reflection and to think about the good side, and what can be learnt from it. So it’s not ‘oh bummer, we lost all our figs and the investment we put into them’, but something else. 

Take this afternoon. The potato patch was looking awfully yellow. First reaction? Nitrogen deficiency. Okay, seems odd, as its a fresh patch loaded with manure. A quick consult with gardening forums, and I start to feel a bit worried. Potato blight? Heat damage?

No, they were just ready. What I’d learnt, then, was that potatoes will flower and then go yellow, which means they are probably done. Simple understanding for most gardeners out there but for me, well, as I’ve said before, I’m not an expert – all this is new to me.  So while something looked quite damaged on the surface – a cause for concern and panic – deep down in the dirt were gorgeous potatoes, beautiful oblong morsels that fit comfortably in my hand.  This was a good outcome – not all outcomes are so successful. But in every thing that seems to be bad on the surface, there’s a good side – whether it’s a lesson about where to plant or being able to see a view that wasn’t there previously. We learnt that figs need a bit better care than what we can give them in the lower paddocks, and maybe olives would work better there.  I think their silvery foliage would look beautiful, and it would give the garden an Italian look in the height of summer! I like the romance of that (well, i liked the romance of a fig plantation too, but I’ll forget about that in my quest for happiness!)

These lessons don’t stop me worrying about the red flowering gum though, who lost a branch in Autumn’s high winds and may well do again. This is where pessimism is useful – Jamie’s negative outlook (which is what is seems to me, on the surface) isn’t really a bad thing, as such – just a really useful tool to keep us prepared. It’s like this poem – it doesn’t matter that the pessimist got lost, like he thought he would, but that he was prepared for it, and ended up with an experience that he was perhaps prepared for all along, while the optimist missed out, even though he got to his destination no problem.

The Pessimist’s Travelling Kit 

Michael Dransfield

two friends were hitching south


one was a pessimist, the other,


an optimist travels with

a telephone number and a 

spike he carries for 

sentimental reasons

the pessimists travelling kit

holds all his apparatus

two candles (in case one gets lost)

two spikes (in cases one rusts)

two grades of junk, two needles

matches, spoons, lighter

his tetelphone numbers consist

mainly of lawyers, 

the otpimist made it south 

in two rides and a day

friend pessimist just got lost

far enough from towns

to be away from the smog and the racket

it didnt matter where he landed

he set up his portable garret

tested the flora

eating strange mushrooms

he lives beyond all that concerns us.

So, what I think this all amounts to (not the poem itself, but what it made me think about), is that our garden needs both of us. A healthy bit of optimism, with a dash of pessimism to keep us prepared. It’s going to be fine.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. desmond1on says:

    I like your take on the whole experance,its all about learning and at a tempo we can deal with! Detachment of life seems silly,for we are apart of this world.good and bad are one and the same! Just a scale of feelings on how we take in the experance. Having two people looking from two perspectives adds to the understanding! Lost and gain are the sides of the same coin,tossed in the air chance can take over! Its how you deal with it that matters,:-). Im sorry for your lost,which helps both of us learn compassion,:-). When i visit and share in your produce,we will appreciate it even more knowing how much effort it took,:-).


  2. kylbeebee says:

    Thanks Des, only just saw this…. 🙂 I will look forward to cooking for you one day…


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