June
18th 2008
Sayyid Qutb on my “dreamy garden”

Posted under: American history, book reviews, Dolls, local news

I’ll return to more Berks blogging soon, but this was too good not to pass on:  a colleague of mine is reading and translating an Arabic volume of letters and other writings by Egyptian writer Sayyid Qutb, the man who went on to write America as I Have Known It, and to become one of the intellectual fathers of contemporary radical Islam.  He recently sent along this quotation:  “And this is the small city of Greeley in which I’m now staying.  Indeed, it is beautiful, beautiful, giving the impression of a germinating plant in a dreamy garden.  Every house is like a shoot in a field, and each street is a path to a garden,” quoted in Salah ‘Abd al-Fatah al-Khalidi, Amrika min al-Dakhil bi Nizar Sayyid Qutb (Jidda: 1986), 60-1.

NPR did an in-depth exploration of the history of Greeley as a utopian temperence colony, and of Qutb’s stay in Greeley in the 1940s, (recording available here) where he studied at Colorado State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Colorado.  Regular readers know that Greeley is referred to as “Potterville” at Historiann.com.)  It may have been here in Greeley that Qutb became convinced that Americans were shallow, materialistic, sexually immoral, and spiritually impoverished.  For those who knew Greeley in the 1940s–or even for those who know the town today–this comes as something of a surprise!  (Well, at least the sexually immoral part.  It’s not all bad:  you can get a lot of work done and save a lot of money living in boring small-town America.)

I must say that landscaping and watering the high plains desert until it looks like southeastern Pennsylvania is troubling from a sustainability perspective, but it gets some pretty good results.  Qutb would be impressed!  Here are some photos from my garden on Tuesday afternoon–poppies and bachelor buttons on top, roses and more roses in the second and fourth photos, and snapdragons and yarrow in the third photo.  The roses are really abundant this year–and, unlike roses anywhere else in the world, they’re a no-maintenance garden standby here.  Just cut them back in late winter or early spring, feed them bone and blood meal 2-3 times, and admire the view.  (And yes, that’s Creepy Doll Head below, on a stake, standing guard over my herb garden with roses as a backdrop!)

9 Comments »

9 Responses to “Sayyid Qutb on my “dreamy garden””

  1. Rad readr on 18 Jun 2008 at 9:39 am #

    Your post calls to mind a connection between a blog and a garden. If you tend it, it will sprout beautiful flowers and rear its ugly head (in a good way). Most bloggers, it would appear from the few I have visited, do not tend to their gardens.

  2. Historiann on 18 Jun 2008 at 10:21 am #

    Rad, you’re so poetic! Blogging takes a lot of time, which is why so many go months without being “tended.” Once I’m no longer on sabbatical–I can’t promise anything. But I’ll try to post at least a few times a week come September (about the time my garden starts to die here in this northern clime!)

  3. ortho stice on 18 Jun 2008 at 10:41 am #

    Historiann, your garden is beautiful. Do you read and write there? It looks like the perfect setting for solitary thinking and reflection.

    Does the doll head prevent animals from chewing on your flowers?

    Unfortunately, I live in an ugly apartment complex. All of the buildings look like army barracks. Needless to say, I don’t have a garden. I have a deck that overlooks a parking lot. It’s not conducive for contemplation or meditation.

  4. Historiann on 18 Jun 2008 at 10:59 am #

    Well, Ortho: gardens are one of the compensations about living in boring, small-town America! Even on an academic salary, you can buy a house with a nice garden and putter around (or blog) endlessly. (I do work outside–I have a very nice porch that overlooks my back garden, with the roses and vegetable and herb gardens.) All the money my family saves in NOT having great restaurants or even good carry-out food in town, all of the money we save in NOT meeting our friends out for drinks in the evenings or going to see live music or theater, it adds up to a tidy sum. Plus, our relationships and marriages are probably much more stable, because of the lack of attractive and appropriate other mates. (NOTE: Small-town life is not so good if you’re single and don’t want to stay that way. I’m just sayin’.)

    This may sound snarky, but I’m at a stage of life (in my late 30s) when boring is OK with me. In fact, I’m hoping that boring lasts a long time, because if it doesn’t it usually means not the arrival of good excitement, but rather illness or tragedy. Given where I’ve had jobs, I’ve been destined to live in small-town America. I wouldn’t have chosen that fate 11 or 12 years ago, but since that’s what it is, I’ve decided to enjoy the pleasures of life in small towns, instead of pining for the thrills of the Big City.

  5. Ft. Collins on 18 Jun 2008 at 1:21 pm #

    Potterville is one choice. We always just called it “Stinky.”

  6. Knitting Clio on 18 Jun 2008 at 1:35 pm #

    I’m envious. I recently moved to a new house and am slowly adding plants. Although the previous owners left some bushes and such, a lot of them are the standard builder’s boring shrubs, and having a brown thumb, I managed to kill several rose bushes. I’m working with my local extension agent on a sustainable garden with native plants. So far, this has meant ones that can withstand the tons of rain we’ve received this spring. No flooding like Iowa thank goodness!

  7. Historiann on 18 Jun 2008 at 2:05 pm #

    KC–wet weather-loving plants are not something I’m an expert in! (I wonder if you could look to places like Oregon or Washinton state for guidance?) Going with local plants and/or wildflower mixes is a good idea–most of my flowers are seeds I shook out of a can called “native wildflower mix” or “hummingbird and butterfly mix,” or some other sort of name like that. Then, just see what comes up again next year. (I’m not hugely into gardening–I’ll do 2 days in the fall, 2 days in the spring, and otherwise let nature take its course…so why argue with marigolds, snaps, poppies, bachelor buttons, and yarrow if they’re happy here?)

  8. Indyanna on 18 Jun 2008 at 9:50 pm #

    OK! I was hoping to learn more about how the CHD had made it through the Rocky Mountain winter. I think it would take a pretty brave, or even a herb-crazed garden marauder to risk trying to sneak past that formidable totem for the sake of a bit of extra garnish on a High Prairie meal! I’m gardenless, but can offer an update on the Philadelphia window-box Barbies posted on April 11 with pictures taken a month earlier. The tilted over and forlorn-looking solo sister doll straightened up and spent the spring wreathed in beautiful pink roses (now wilted) from a crack-in-the-sidewalk rose plant not even apparent in late winter. Meanwhile, the statelier pair in the adjacent box (Historiann called them “minxes”) had a scragglier accomodation, short, green, mostly flowerless plants of a non-descript source. All three are a bit worse for the weathering, but no major disasters so far. Not a herb in a hatbox in this grid of urban streets, but I think there’s a community garden in the park over near the River. It would be interesting to know more about the collective cultural experience of foreigners studying in less prominent American academic centers in the decades after WWII, and what difference it may have meant in the world.

  9. Historiann on 19 Jun 2008 at 7:36 am #

    Thanks for the Barbie update–I’ve got some more Barbie pictures to post this summer. I think I may start prowling Goodwill and ARC shops for old Barbies to futher decorate my garden…

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