Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Letting Go


Bending down, I examine my sunflower seedlings. Each day, they are bigger, standing on tiptoes, searching for sun. The Romano beans are also perking up, stretching toward the windmill where they can then roam freely. I stand up and come face to face with my butterfly bush - the beauty of my back yard last year as it reached over 6 feet tall, spiked with royal purple flowers. It's quite big this year but doesn't boast a single blossom. Bending forward, I see that the most of the leaves are gnarled, curled inward. Prying apart a blackened leaf, a white worm wiggles out. As I jump back (I'm not all that great with wiggly white worms), it drops to the ground and scoots out of sight. Aha! A pest, I think, and begin pulling apart leaves and squishing the worms inside.

After dispatching five or so worms, I wonder if hand-picking them is the best way to go. Might these pests be like aphids, which magically disappear after a few weeks if I just turn a blind eye? I resolve to cruise the Internet later to learn up on what is butchering my beloved buddleia. With the kitchen clean and the kids asleep, I log on. Jumping from page to page, I come up empty. Then suddenly it hits me. It's a butterfly bush. Butterflies come from little wiggly things but they are called caterpillars, not worms. I change the search to "caterpillars" and hit the jackpot. My "infested" bush is actually home to skippers, the leaves wrapped to hold their cocoons. I swallowed a wave of guilt at having sent a few of those caterpillars to their final resting place this afternoon.

The next day, while studying the disfigured leaves on my plant, I realize that one of the easiest steps to living lightly is not more work, but less. It's loosening our grip on perfection and accepting a nibbled leaf for what it is - home and food to another creature.

Sometimes, a green life means more work. Growing your own food or shopping at the farmers' market is not as easy as picking it up at the local big box store. Line drying takes more time than using a dryer. I've always felt that these time consuming chores have their own rewards - better tasting food, time to think, peace. Still, how do we find the time to meditate over a bubbling pot of jam or ride a bike to town instead of drive?
We let go.

Clothes don't need to be spotless. I can wear them without washing a couple more times and save time, energy and water.

My plants don't need to be perfect. I can ignore a few gnarled leaves and give the bees and butterflies the space they need. The insects usually work it out on their own, anyway. It's called an ecosystem.


Our lawn can be a bit browner and we can save some water and the effort to maintain it.

The kids can skip a bath tonight, and tomorrow night. Really, the world won't end. I'll save 30 minutes and 25 gallons of water.

Lowering the bar, relaxing our standards, and letting go of some of our expectations goes a long way toward a greener life. A lighter footstep isn't all about working more. A fair amount is about working less. All of it, though, is about living more.

22 comments:

Burbanmom said...

Amen, Sistah! And those kids can go a lot longer without a bath... just ask them! :-)

gregra&gar said...

Growing enough food for your animal neighbors to share is the green alternative to the totalitarian agribusinesses that kill every plant and predator over square miles over the earth's surface. Great post.

Heather @ SGF said...

Awesome post! I really struggle with this - things just don't HAVE to be perfect. I'm getting better which, I suppose, is the point.

One of the things I've learned since I started reading some buddhist psychology books is that unhappiness happens when our expectations are out of line with reality. We can't change reality (it already exists right now), so perhaps we should change our expectations. Makes sense, but SOOOO hard to do!

A tip on the lawn work - we let ours grow really long before mowing it (mowing once every two weeks instead of the normal once a week here). The grass stays greener and we don't have to water as often. The neighbors have been watering for months and we just watered for the first time last week. Sweet!

eco 'burban mom said...

My boys (even at the middle school age) love it when I let them get away without a shower! Though, by the next day they are stinky enough that I sometimes regret my decision. Puberty does not make boys smell any better, that's for sure.

The type-A personality in me does struggle with letting things go... I can wander outside to get the mail and then find myself weeding the garden bed by the mailbox for a half hour because just looking at it was driving me nuts!! Finding a balance is hard!

Wendy said...

I like your point about our meals. Who says that we have to have roast chicken, rosemary and garlic whipped potatoes, baby glazed carrots, a green salad and bread at every meal? When we started eating a more local diet, I found that I was putting things on the table I hadn't considered as part of a "meal", like a jar of pickles or some cranberry sauce. Our meals have gotten much simpler, but we're fuller. Interesting how that happens :).

Joyce said...

What about combining lawn watering, running through the sprinkler, and bath-time? Happened at our house from time to time- I just took the shampoo out there in the back yard and when they were done playing, I washed them down. They thought it was pretty funny.

Hit Pay Dirt said...

Ahhh Green Bean, you always bring me back to where I want to be. I had just finished reading a post about a gardener who is doing battles with some kind of beetles. Suddenly I started stressing out about my garden and what would happen if I got beetles too?!? Well, here's the thing: I MIGHT GET BEETLES or some other kind of "pests" but if I do, it will be okay. Like you said, it's called the ecosystem. I'm willing to stay in balance with it.

Thanks. :)

Gillian

Chile said...

Ahhh, embrace your inner laziness. It's amazing how letting go can make you realize how much make-work you were doing. At the time, it seemed critical that it get done, but eventually it becomes clear it was not really.

I keep trying to look at everything I do and figure out where I'm not really doing something important. It's "Cut the Crap - Declutter" turned on time and chores instead of things.

arduous said...

Wow! I love Joyce's suggestion!! I bet the kiddos would love it too. ;)

MamaBird said...

I love this post. So perfect now in light of the fact that I just want to be outside with my kids constantly and something has to give. That something will have to be my concept of dinner! Why not just have PB&J's? It's worth the tradeoff of being able to run around for a couple hours longer. There will be plenty of time to cook in the fall/winter. I am definitely trying to have the kids go lots longer w/o baths. My 5yo is down with it -- but the boy in diapers needs to work on being less of a barnyard animal for him to get with the program....

Green Bean said...

Burbs: Oh yeah, babe! We're talking 1x a week or so. Dammit, though, I hate it when the schools do face painting or wacky hair day. Do they not realize the water I need to use to clean the kids up!

Mr. G: Thank you. We definitely need to move toward a harmony rather than a slash and burn mentality - in virtually all aspects of our lives.

Heather: Great point about being happier when our expectations are more realistic. I've read times that people are less happy today, in part, because they compare their lives to what they see on TV. But that's not reality. Thanks for the lawn tip, I'll give it a go. Another great excuse for lazy environmentalism.

EB: I totally do that mailbox type thing and then it's time to pick up the kids and I haven't gotten a thing done. Not good news on the puberty thing - at least we have a few years til that hits.

Wendy: Totally! I especially feel this way in summer when there is so much abundance everywhere. Why slave to make it into some beautiful dish. A jar of pickles rocks!

Joyce: Pure genius! We're in.

Gillian: Yeah, I go through that all the time. I'm still a newbie when it comes to veggie gardening and tend to panic. This post was written as much for me as for you. ;-)

Chile: Consider my inner laziness embraced. I too need to declutter all the stuff I feel that I need to do.

Arduous: I love hearing from people with older kids - they always have the best ideas.

MamaBird: I'm so with you. I'm much less inclined to cook in summer. On top of everything else, who wants the hot stove or oven on. As to your barnyard, can't help you there. We got out of diapers in January and I am NOT lookin back.

Debbie said...

This post hit home with me as I struggle to find the balance. I am so happy at the end of a day of gardening when I have dirt under my nails and between my toes.I never get that type of satisfaction from doing laundry. I used to love it when my kids were little and when they got out of the tub there would be a big dark ring - the sign of a good day of play. I do love Joyce's idea about combining sprinkler time with bath time - I will be using that when someday I have grandkids! Thoughtful writing, Green Bean ~ thanks.

CindyW said...

I completely absolutely embrace "Clothes don't need to be spotless". I am the laundry doer in my family. I let the kids wear their clothes a couple of times before washing and I use the less harmful soap. Honestly the "green" detergents don't get rid spots as well as Tide, Surf or Cheers. They don't have the optical brighter that tricks your eyes into seeing more white than the clothes actually are.

Anyway, kids don't care, but my husband grumbled for a long time. Now even he is getting used to it :) We all have spot-erasing glasses on these days - we just don't see them anymore.

Other than less laundry spot-blindness has not made ourselves any different.

Melissa said...

I don't have kids, but I've found it's true for myself as well...it was a bit of adjustment at first, but I don't actually get in the shower every day anymore. I clean up, but actual showers are down to about twice a week, sometimes three. The hair washing thing is hardest for me to let go of, but my hair really is happier the less I wash it. I am too...I've always felt like showering every day, then drying the hair, blah blah is such a boring waste of time. I'm not much of a girly girl :)

Gypsy said...

I love this post. I think the drive for clean, neat, perfect things comes so much from the marketing industry that we are surrounded by. When you opt out of that consumer cycle and see far fewer images, its suddenly possible to see the beauty in your caterpillars or slightly wonky organic produce,

kale for sale said...

I have to echo my appreciation of the beauty of simple plain food on the table. Red cherries in a blue bowl, orange cauliflower on a green plate, asparagus on a platter. It's one of my favorite parts of the day.

I love the bathing on the back lawn idea from Joyce - if only we didn't share the yard!

Donna said...

You are so right! Life/garden/kids/etc. become a lot more manageable if we don't insist on perfection. My best memory from when I was in preschool was catching monarch caterpillars, putting them in a jar and watching them cocoon. Don't know if they are even still there or not, but we caught them about a mile from your house. :)

I've got to try Joyce's idea (someday, when the weather finally warms up). Even if we don't have a lawn!

Heather @ SGF said...

I WISH I didn't have to shower every day, but many days it's twice. On the days when I go to work twice it's an absolute must (45-50 bike ride each way in 80-90 degree heat). I'm just outside too much in the heat to do otherwise, but I take SUPER short showers. My hubby is always impressed.

Jennifer said...

Great post! So important.

crstn85 said...

That made me laugh, thanks! Sometimes we do just need to stop micro-managing and let nature do its thing.

ruralaspirations said...

Here I was feeling guilty as a mother because my children have a bath maybe once a week (mud-puddle games and potty accidents notwithstanding). But now I can add it to my list of water and energy conserving activities. :-)

kpickles said...

I love this post. Lazy rules!

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