From “Men and Women in Search of Common Ground,” an essay in a collection called The Art of the Commonplace. A touching depiction of the failure, beautiful and enticing though it may be, of self-intervention and self-industry.
“Some time ago I was with Wes Jackson, wandering among the experimental plots at his home and workplace, the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. We stopped by one plot that had been planted in various densities of population. Wes pointed to a Maximilian Sunflower growing alone, apart from the others and said, “There is a plant that has ‘realized its full potential as an individual.’” And clearly it had: It had grown very tall; it had put out many long branches heavily laden with blossoms–and the branches had broken off, for they had grown too long and too heavy. The plant had indeed realized its full potential as an individual, but it had failed as a Maximilian Sunflower. We could say that its full potential as an individual was this failure. It had failed because it had lived outside an important part of its definition, which consists of both its individuality and its community. A part of its properly realizable potential lay in its community, not itself.”