It’s not as much as a stretch as it might seem. See, I’ve become a fan of gardening. But long before I liked to plant things, I became a huge fan of sports. I spent hours glued to my grandmother’s television in the study off the dining room during the 1984 Summer Olympics, and when I wasn’t watching, I was outside, conducting my own imaginary Summer Games, in which I medaled in track, field, dressage and rhythmic gymnastics. Don’t get between me and my ribbon, people. On my grandmother’s patio, I scored perfect 10s with my undulating strip of purple satin.
I ran track in high school, and so, by the time Marion Jones came on the scene, was more than aware of what it meant to run as fast as she did. I knew that for me to even come close to her in a race, my feet would have to go approximately twice as fast as I could make them go on my most adrenaline-charged days, and the very fact that she had the sheer cahones to go out there and shoot for five gold medals? I swooned. Marion Jones was my hero that year, and when she didn’t make her five golds, I felt a weird combination of incredibly sad for her that she hadn’t achieved all she’d set out to do and thrilled that she’d still medaled five times.
She embodied pure sport. Watching her, I could imagine what it felt like to come off the curve of the track onto the straightaway of the 200 meters—my absolute favorite moment of that particular race—when you slingshot down and just hold on for dear life, arms pumping, feet serving as nothing more than propulsive devices. And when she won, Marion Jones looked so grateful, and beautiful when she smiled, and she celebrated without—like some other athletes—making the U.S. look like a bunch of ungracious, unsportsmanlike jerks.
So we’ve come to find she cheated. I wasn’t surprised, to be honest. My opinion of world-caliber athletes has been dropping by exponents in the last five to seven years, as more and more test positive for one steroid or another. Rafael Palmeiro? You broke my heart. Floyd Landis? You’re a dirt bag, dude. Jose Canseco? That’s Jose Cansucko, thank you very much.
I used to lump steroids in with athletic programs from despotic nations—countries so desperate for the win they couldn’t help but turn their female swimmers into oddly-shaped, hairy rectangles. But now I don’t trust anyone operating at a truly elite level.
I love pure sports. Sports that demonstrate the dazzling skill of athletes and what the human body can do. Not the human body plus a bunch of poison. Just the human body. Alone. Fabulous and amazing.
And for that reason, I choose to plant my yard and not add a bunch of chemicals to the soil in which I’m raising my food. Much as I believe in the purity of sport, I believe in the purity of food—that it should be nourishing rather than poison, and that it should come from a balanced environment that has been as nurtured as the plants that grow it.
I’m not a total purist. I still attend Major League Baseball games, and I am already plotting for how I can watch as much of the Beijing Olympics as I possibly can, even though I know not all the cheaters get caught. I don’t always buy organic vegetables at the store—in fact, often, I’ll pick the locally-grown item over the organic if the option is one or the other. This is not a perfect world, and I do believe that the environmental impact of shipping food long distances is far worse than the environmental impact of pesticide and fertilizer use.
But when we talk about acting locally in the global fight against environmental catastrophe, the one place we all have the most control is in our own yards. We have the choice: use Scotts Miracle-Gro? Or Terracycle? Dump a bunch of chemical fertilizer on the vegetables we plan to eat, and let that leach into the soil and run off into the local water supply, or try a less harmful product? We might lose a little in terms of how big our tomatoes grow, but we gain a long-term benefit that we can’t even quantify yet.
Whether we’re growing vegetables in beds or annuals in pots, as garden and landscaping consumers, we make a choice every day: Preserve the purity of the environments on our own properties, or choose to cheat a little bit. Or maybe cheat a lot. We can take what nature has given us and appreciate that amazing bounty, or we can get greedy and grab for more than we deserve. And, like Marion Jones, we can only go down that path for so long before it catches up with us. Cheaters never win, and when it’s the health of our planet that’s at stake, there’s only one choice my values will allow me to make: I can’t cheat in my own yard.