At the end of Voltaire’s Candide, Candide famously meets a character known only as “the Turk,” who tells him that he doesn’t concern himself with the affairs of the world, rather he contents himself with tending his garden. He has twenty acres, and he cultivates them with his children, “work keeps away three great evils: boredom, vice, and need.” Candide, who has undergone, heard about, and even inadvertently caused great suffering and cruelty, and who has possessed and lost more money than anyone in Europe, reflects deeply on the man’s remarks. His tutor, Pangloss, tries to engage in a philosophical discussion on the matter, and Candide cuts him off to say, “I also know that we must cultivate our garden.” And their friend Martin says, “Let us work without reasoning, it is the only way to make life endurable.”
And they do work. “All the little society entered into this laudable plan; each one began to exercise his talents. The little piece of land produced much…No one…failed to perform some service.” Pangloss tries to philosophize with him again about how they ended up here eating pistachios, in his usual verbose fashion. And Candid once again says, “That is well said, but we must cultivate our garden.” And so ends the story.
Many interpret the Turk’s advice as misanthropic and miserly. They imagine the Turk cut off from the world, alone and miserable. But this is not the case at all. He works with his family, they’re creating their world together. And he welcomes Candide and his friends with great generosity, sharing the bounty of his small land; sherbet and Turkish cream, oranges and lemons and pistachios. Candide is never so wise, assured, and content as he is in the final pages of the book, working with all that he has to build a good place.
We’re just planting our own garden now. As the light makes its way across our small yard–a little more each day, shifting so quickly this time of year–we welcome the plants that come back each year as old friends, and we find new plants to grow–jewel-like lettuces, rosemary and tarragon and flowers of every hue of blue. We plant pollinators to attract bees and butterflies and hummingbirds, we plant fruit bushes to attract berry-eating birds. We dig in the still-cold ground, shifting through soil with our fingers and unearthing worms and grubs. We don’t like to plan it too carefully, we like to grow every pleasing or odd thing we find, and we want it to be a little wild and unruly, we want it to be unexpected but somehow perfect together.
So it is with Tidings of Magpies. Voltaire, of course, isn’t just speaking of planting a garden, he’s talking about creating a world, employing our talents, enjoying the process of working, and of working together, to make something and someplace good. So every month we collect stories and art and photographs–words and images to cultivate our small plot, and we hope that they’ll combine and grow into a fertile garden, a world worth visiting. It’s a little piece of land, but we hope if we cultivate it well, it will produce much.
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