Some know Karel Čapek as a seven-time Nobel nominee, but most remember him as the man who gave us the word “robot”. Among Čapek’s most endearing works is The Gardener’s Year, a learnéd, light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek depiction of the enduring, eccentric gardener, including a “Gardener’s Prayer” that’s almost more of a demand for Eden than an invocation. This illustration from the accompanying pages was drawn by his brother, painter and writer Josef Čapek, who actually coined “robot”.
O Lord, grant that in some way it may rain every day, say from about midnight until three o’clock in the morning, but, you see, it must be gentle and warm so that it can soak in; grant that at the same time it would not rain on campion, alyssum, helianthus, lavender, and others which You in Your infinite wisdom know are drought-loving plants-I will write their names on a bit of paper if you like-and grant that the sun may shine the whole day long, but not everywhere (not, for instance, on the gentian, plantain lily, and rhododendron) and not too much; that there may be plenty of dew and little wind, enough worms, no lice or snails, or mildew, and that once a week thin liquid manure and guano may fall from heaven. Amen
Ever since the Expulsion man has searched for the Garden of Eden, and we shouldn’t find it at all surprising to know that among the many who claim to have found it, one was a bespectacled, God-fearing lawyer from Weogufka, Alabama, who declared in 1956 that “the Garden was in the Apalachicola Valley of West Florida.”
Elvy Edison Callaway was a man of deep faith who fell under the influence of a Dr. Brown Landone, who felt he had a special talent for bringing scientific rigor to mystical problems and wrote several books giving advice to ordinary mortals, among them the titillating Prophecies of Melchizedek in the Great Pyramid and the Seven Temples. Callaway describes his meeting with Landone as a “calling”, promptly abandoned his family, and while surveying his Panhandle land with a tax assessor–no doubt with divorce looming–found the inspiration for his mission from Melchizedek: the rare Torreya yew tree, which Callaway, through the teachings of Dr. Landone and his mysterious “Teleois Key”, declared to be the source of “gofer wood” from which Noah built the Ark. After that revelation, everything fell in place. Abandoning his once ardent faith in Christianity, Callaway, through “teleology”, fused what he knew of evolutionary theory and Scripture and decided that “because all informed geologists admit that it is the oldest land mass on earth”, God created Adam about a mile outside Bristol, Florida. He then created the Garden of Eden along the Apalachicola River there and filled it with citruses, magnolias, hydrangeas, mountain laurel and of course the majestic gopher yew (one of the few trees in North America considered “critically endangered”).
E.E. Callaway’s Garden of Eden is protected today as part of The Nature Conservancy’s Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve. Accessible via Garden of Eden Road, the preserve has a Garden of Eden Trail leading through the site. The scenery is spectacular; clear, bubbling streams flow through the bottoms of the steep ravines, which support rare plants and animals, some found nowhere else in the world. Callaway’s southern Eden might not be the original–who are we, or who is anyone for that matter to say so–but it’s still a little bit of paradise in this fallen world; God knows we need more of them.