By Isaac Lund
Before coming to Duke as a master's of divinity student, much of my working life involved some form of manual labor, whether it was slinging lumber, driving forklifts or washing windows.
Upon arriving in Durham, I quickly took on a work-study position at Duke Gardens and continued my self-made tradition of working outside. What made this job different, however, was its orientation—not toward the individualized enterprises of home-building and home-maintenance, but toward the common shared experience of beauty and bliss.
Whether or not we are aware of it, those of us working in the Gardens—curators, horticulturists, interns, work study students and volunteers—are committed to facilitating such an experience. As a theology student who affirms the inherent worth and goodness of the created world, I cannot help but think about how my experience as a worker in the Gardens has facilitated my own experience of delight in this place. My own relationship with the plants and landscapes of this place are in no small way informed by encounters involving copious amounts of sweat and dirt. Through such encounters, I subject myself to the geological and biological demands of this specific place and, by playing by its rules, become a part of the ecosystem.
So how is my experience of Duke Gardens unique? I imagine it has much to do with recognizing my own contribution to this place and the work required to make it as beautiful as it is. But even more so, close proximity to the processes of growth and decay in this place have taught me to see the array of actors each uniquely involved in the arduous (but delightful) task of gardening.
So, the next time you visit the Gardens and feel compelled to thank one of the human members of its staff, also consider thanking the soil, the insects and even the plants themselves. After all, the transcendent experience of beauty is only made possible through the immanence of the creatures and environments surrounding us. Let us all be co-laborers together!
Isaac Lund graduated in 2019 with a master's in divinity from Duke Divinity School.
Photo: Audra Ang