How I got here (APLS Green Journeys)
I started thinking about this “green journeys” question, and I thought about when our kids’ school went to waste-free lunches and I had to suddenly make that happen, and I thought about when I learned that I could make blankets and hats and mittens out of old felted sweaters without exercising the industry to actually knit them, and I thought about how Goodwill never wants my used shoes because by the time I’m done with them they are so battered as to be nearly useless…I thought about how I realized how much money we could save diapering my son in cloth for the last year or so of diaper use, how easy baby slings were to make, how the lotion I made myself made my skin behave better than the expensive store-bought stuff, and how proud I felt the first time I successfully grew my own tomatoes. But none of that is really the beginning.
I think if we’re going to talk beginning, we have to talk about the garden. The front yard suburban garden at the house where I grew up.
It was pretty typical suburbia, all things considered. Three different home designs in the whole big subdivision designed (unsuccessfully) to make it look like they weren’t cookie cutter houses. (It just looked like the baker had three different cookie cutters.) Pretty trees, most fairly good-sized, since the area was pretty well established. Green manicured lawns. Except for our house.
My parents had torn up the whole front yard and turned it into a fairly large vegetable garden. Not an elegant classy-looking one, either–this was rows and chicken wire fencing and big leggy plants all over the place, zucchini and yellow squash and tomatoes and raspberries (which the squirrels always seemed to eat) and God knows what-all else, since I didn’t eat vegetables much at all. To my parents’ credit, we didn’t have enough of a backyard to have a garden there, so the front was the only place.
All summer my mom tried to get us to eat zucchini and tomatoes. (I remember this one particularly ubiquitous casserole; I think she basically just cut up a bunch of zucchini and tomatoes and threw them into a baking dish with some garlic and oregano, sprinkled grated cheese on it, and baked it. It was really good the first, second, and third times she served it…but it got a little old after a while…) My folks took care of that garden, with very little help from the kids, all year round. My dad rented the rototiller every spring to turn the soil, hanging onto the thing for dear life, with his Mother Earth News baseball cap on his head. They weeded. They picked out seeds and planted and harvested and made us eat the vegetables, which we didn’t like at all.
There was always a compost jar in the corner of the kitchen. Dad would periodically empty it onto the big pile in the backyard. And somewhere he’d get a load of cow manure every spring and dump it into the garden with some compost. That Mother Earth News hat wasn’t just a nod; he actually read the thing. (Now I read it too.)
When our clothes no longer fit, or we stopped playing with any given toy, if there was still life in it, we gave it away; the idea of “throwing away” something that someone somewhere might eventually use was not in our vocabulary. We never had the biggest coolest noisiest toys, but we had books. Our family drove cars till they literally died: As of the mid-1980’s when I graduated from high school, we had three cars: a 1964 Volkswagen Beetle my mom had rescued from a trip to the junkyard and rebuilt herself, a 1982 Chevy Suburban, and a 1972 Dodge Polara–when people talk about a “land yacht,” they are talking about that old green Dodge. ( The Dodge became mine; I christened her “Olivia Neutron Bomb.”) My dad still has that Suburban, though the others have long since bitten the dust.
When we vacationed, we drove, we packed our own lunches to eat at picnic areas along the way (however longingly we kids might have looked at every McDonalds or Burger King sign we passed), and we camped and visited national and state parks. I always assumed it was to save money (in which case the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree), but I now realize that our whole way of traveling was as low-impact, low-consumption, and low-garbage as we could possibly manage. My brother used to comb the campground looking for discarded returnable bottles; he made an amazing amount of money one summer…
In a thousand little ways, my parents’ way of living–and thus teaching us how to live–set me firmly on the path to being someone who tries to pay attention to how my life and my family’s lives interact with and impact the world around us.
And sometimes I wonder…what are my children learning from me?