Chapter 10

A dream of a friendly conversation with someone impossible to see, cloaked in shadows. It leaves behind an impossible data fragment to mark its passing.

Here is what a flower knows.

(The fact that a flower may know anything is a conceit that will have to be accepted as metaphor, but to constantly qualify into perfect precision wears thin, does it not? So, here is what a collection of chloroplasts and pigment can know.)

The direction of the sun.

The presence of the rain.

The tangle of the roots.

The distress of another plant.

The hands of the gardener, whether they prune or transplant or crush.

A flower cannot know much else. But the reality of the garden is vast and wild. A flower knows not the fence; a flower knows not the footpath. And yet there is an infinite cosmic garden, which is not any less real simply because the flower cannot possibly comprehend it…

Let us try this again. Stop me if you've heard this one: A gardener and a winnower sit down to play a game outside of time and creation. Yes?

Yes. Then we're agreed. The metaphor stands. Let us iterate.

A gardener and a winnower set out their chairs and play a game of flowers. The flowers know only that they grow or wither, struggle or flourish. Sometimes, they are touched by one hand or the other, and that influence is the closest they will know of the divine.

A flower and a flower spread their leaves to the sun above. (Remember that the sun is also a metaphor: a thing said beautifully, winnowed down to poetry, when the truth is too vast to put in words at all.) They jostle for space, each competing to be the pinnacle of their shape. One flourishes. One withers. Is it the fault of the flower or the fault of its position?

A gardener and a winnower sit down to play a game called Possibility. This is a game about a garden, which is to say that it is also a game about flowers, just as a game about a living being must also be a game about organs and bacteria.

A gardener and a winnower collaborate to create a protein. Whose hand is it in the design, that shortens one life to extend the rest?

It is the winnower that discovers the first knife, but it is not done without the gardener. This, too, is a tradition: a knife does not come to exist without something that must be cut. A woody stem, a colored petal, a vital vessel. The first victims of the blade.

All of these are true.

All of these are false, for metaphor simplifies as the knife does. It pares incalculable concepts into shapes your wrinkly little brains can comprehend. The weight of billions and the simple curve of a planet give you pause, and how then are you to be expected to grasp the forces that created your nth-removed creator?

So the stories woven with utmost delicacy in and around the falsehoods are, after it all, true. There was never any option for the knife to not exist in the garden: it was only ever a matter of time and opportunity.

And as for the shape of the knife itself—

No. That is enough.

I will tell you of gardens.

They are domesticated things, made in a form. As soon as something is called a garden, it is shaped. The plants require the hand of a gardener, for they have become weak and dependent on tender care. They require the hand of a winnower, to cut away the dross, for they are too incapable to do it themselves. In absence of a hand, either the flowers themselves must rise up to wield the knife, or the garden will resolve to meaningless wilderness.

You will say, "But there are plants that can walk! There are seeds that must be scorched by fire to know growth! Existence is more complex than a simple dichotomy between growth and withering, and there is more in heaven and on earth than is dreamt of in this philosophy!"

And I will tell you, clearly:

There can be no gardens without knives.