After retrieving my big boy, we drove by the library to pick out a few books. I hate clutter so it was nice to check kids books out from the library, knowing they'd migrate out of my house in three short weeks. The children's librarian had a nice display of Earth Day books up and we chose a few: Earth Day Birthday and Recycle Every Day. I had cared passionately about the environment as a young adult. We shopped at Whole Foods, buying mostly organic produce, and we recycled religiously (mostly). Heck, every now and then, we even donated money to The Nature Conservancy.
That night, after clearing the boys' AlphaTots remains from the dinner table, we sat down to read their library selections. I explained the importance of recycling, glossed over the bring your own bag part, skipped the compost section and ended by talking about how important it was to care for our planet. After putting the boys to bed, I thought about those books, about my own impact on the environment, wondered at the climate change headline I'd seen on Yahoo's home page and the world I would leave behind to my boys. In Matrix-speak, I took the red pill. I chose truth. I woke up.
The next morning, at Whole Foods, I tentatively informed the cashier that I'd like to buy "one green bag, no, I . . . I . . . I'll take two". I also tossed a magazine boasting Leonardo Di Caprio and "100 Things to Do For Earth Day" onto the conveyor belt.
Over the ensuing months, I went from occasionally forgetting my bags to using them for every shopping trip, to finding reusable produce bags, to using the library for my own books instead of just the kids. I planted a garden, hung a clothesline (and used it), walked my son to school.
I ventured to the farmers' market where everyone knew each other and what to buy. As time went on, I too became friends with the vendors, chatting about grandmothers and preschool. I compared notes with other shoppers - "Oh, the guy under the blue umbrella has peas today? They are organic? Where are they grown?"
I stopped shopping. I haven't been to Target since December and I can't say I miss it. I rediscovered hikes and natural spaces. I learned to fix things instead of throw them out. I can pack a waste free lunch with one hand tied behind my back (or carrying a three year old).
I read articles, blogs and books. I powered through environmental checklists and left Leonardo's 100 things list in the dust. I joined the Riot 4 Austerity yahoo group to find more ways to cut back. I would never get to the targeted 90% reduction from the current American's use, though. That was just crazy. Some of these so-called Rioters were pretty out there. How can you possibly have a family of four produce less than three pounds of garbage a week? Still, they had good ideas so I read and incorporated. One year into this venture, my family is the one producing virtually no garbage. We could go weeks without the garbage collector and not stink.
I do have a ways to go. I need to get on my bike more. I have to decide what to do with the front lawn - let it die, leave it its current brownish-green color due to lack of water or replace it with an edible garden? I need to whittle away at our plastic consumption - even recyclable plastic is too much. I need to speak up more.
But I've come a long way, baby.
The thousand mile journey begins with a single step - or a single canvas shopping bag. Each step feels as meaningful as the last. There are many steps in this journey, however, so I must keep moving.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep.
- Robert Frost
Happy Earth Month and best wishes on your own journey.