End of the Line

End of the Line: Who Needs Overalls?

What one can learn from the first gardeners

Illustration: Barry Blitt

Back in the seventies a nice-looking woman told me she had left a farm commune in the sixties because she got tired of “hoeing naked.” I could see that. In my mind’s eye, I could see her doing it, in fact: hoeing that way. But I didn’t tell her that. I get too worked up, deep down inside, when anything reminds me of the Garden of Eden.

What makes this pertinent now? The economy. It’s regressing rapidly back toward the dawn of humanity, isn’t it? And people are talking once again about having to live off the land. They’re not talking about doing it in the nude, though. That’s good.

A couple I knew in the seventies informed me that they didn’t regard themselves as Americans, but as forest animals. My response was not cool: I snorted. Not that I wanted this couple to be more patriotic, I just doubted they could survive for long in the woods—they did live a good ways back off the road—barefooted.

By the way, people of the North have tried to tell me that the word barefooted is Southern; that barefoot is standard. But “barefooted as a yard dog” is a fuller-bodied expression than John Greenleaf Whittier’s “barefoot boy, with cheek of tan.” The feet involved are not only more pronounced, but more grounded. That -ed at the end is the toes. If you prefer barefooted over barefoot, you are less likely to get romantic about living as a woodland creature or tilling the earth au naturel.

But that couple was sexy, in a desert-island kind of way. Bear in mind that the story of Adam and Eve was the first spicy one to which I was exposed. When I was a boy, there was not a lot of nudity around, especially in Georgia. And by the time nudity became the height of fashion (rendering obsolete, at least for a time, Mark Twain’s observation, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society”), I was married, with children and cats and dogs. I have noticed that children and household animals would prefer the nominal head of household to have clothes on.

Part of me wants to have hoed with that nice-looking woman. But just thinking about the posture of hoeing  makes the small of my back hurt. In Eden, nobody needed to hoe. Adam and Eve coexisted with the weeds, because trees bearing  fruit abounded. The first couple had dominion over the beasts and the fishes, so hunting and fishing, and milking, and getting past the rooster to gather the eggs, must have been a snap. Until the serpent induced Eve to take a bite from the one forbidden fruit, the apple of knowledge, she and Adam coexisted mellowly with each other, too—lacking any sense of either ooh-la-la, on the one hand, or “Is that all you care about?” on the other. Something to be said for relations such as those, but:

Let’s not condemn lady Eve
For being the reason that we’ve
Lost Paradise.
She put us wise
That bare skin is hot, I believe.

When Adam woke up in the morning for the first time, what did he think?

“Well, here I am. There’s some fruit. That’s good.”

Then when Eve arrived, what did the two of them think?

“Oh, hello. We have fruit here.”

“Yes, so I see.”

No story there. The real moment—even as a child, I got this—is when it hits them that they’re naked. Then we know what they’re thinking.

I have lived through two periods of American innocence, neither of which I felt right about. The first was the Age of Aquarius, when all we needed was love. The second was the Age of Leverage, when all we needed was “market forces.” Each of those ages had its charms. But there’s something tangy in the air when a bubble bursts, and we can foresee a long row to hoe.

My fantasy is that I’m there with that nice-looking woman when the hoe falls from her hands and she gives a little shiver. I’m wearing some work pants and a shirt and I lend her the shirt, and I know where we can rent us a rototiller.