Friday, October 29, 2010

Remorselessly

One trait I've always had is "buyer's remorse": that tendency in human nature to regret commitments made, and to wonder if we haven't made a terrible mistake as soon as a decision is irrevocable.

For instance, when I brought home Morgan, our 185 pound English mastiff and the dog of a lifetime, I spent at least a week fending off a sinking feeling that I had ruined my life (and this dog's), and that it would never, ever work out!  It did--Morgan eventually joined me in my therapy practice, working with me and with my trauma-survivor clients on a daily basis.  She was enormous, she slobbered, but she could sense a painful emotion a mile away, and loved nothing better than to rest her head on someone's knee and look up at them with the big, sincere gaze of a mastiff, telling them without words that she would never have treated them that way.

Of course, there is a difference between a dog, a living, breathing animal who can give and receive love, and stuff.   I have a long and bitter history around buying stuff--I don't like to.

So ubiquitous has been the experience of buyer's remorse that I have learned to question closely every craving I have, every keen desire for yet another Thing.  Shoes, cars, books, computers, houseplants and appliances... whatever the Thing is that I'm contemplating bringing into my world, I stare at the decision for as long as I can, fending off purchases as long as possible.

I ask myself, endlessly, "If you get this nifty new Thing, six months from now, will your life be any better?  When the money is spent and the novelty has worn off, will this actually make you any happier?"

For me, at least, when I'm honest with myself the answer almost always turns out to be "no."  And then I'm left holding my remorse.  (And maybe a big bill.)

We Americans love our cars.  And I admit it--I drive mine until they are unreliable hulks, real beaters, and when I get one that I can be pretty sure won't break down and strand me on the side of the road--maybe even one that has AC can actually cools the car--I like it.  I like riding around in a new car as much as the next person.

At least, on the day I bring it home.

But six weeks later, stuck in traffic or driving home after working late?  My satisfaction in life is no higher with the new car than it was with the old beater.  (Though admittedly higher than it would be stuck at the side of the road.)

It's that way with almost everything: new outfits, faster computers, even (though I'm ashamed to admit it) the new book purchases I convince myself I can't live without.  Six months later, I might as well have tossed my money in a well for all the satisfaction it has given me.  And I'd very much better have saved it, or given it away.

Stuff doesn't make me very happy, at least, not for very long.

But.

I asked myself these same questions when we were looking at buying our house two years ago.  I asked myself if it would really make any difference to me, say, on a day when I was home with the flu, or came home late and weary... if on a steamy August afternoon or a frozen November morning, it would actually make the least difference to how I feel to be alive, knowing that there were woods behind the house, or that it was built in the mid 19th century, or had a garden outside.

I worried I might find it did not.

I was wrong.

I love living in the country.  I love my commute, past the small town beach where I swim in the summers, under the red pines that stride in even rows back to the chaotic jumble of the real woods.  I love hearing geese honking overhead as I pin my laundry onto the clothesline each week.  I love my multi-layered view from the dining room window: phosphorescent-green lettuce growing on the windowsill flaming against the deep rose color of an autumn shrub just outside, hemlock tree jutting upwards in the middle distance, and behind it, down the hill, the vehemence of blazing oak and maple leaves catching the last of the afternoon sun.

I love my sloping ceilings; I love the deep blackness of the sky overhead at night, and the stars that are farther and cooler than they seem in the city.  I love watching "my" oaks reemerge from the cluttered foreground of swamp maples and poplars as the lesser trees shed their leaves, and I love having the ability to plant and love and care for seedling trees of my own.

Even last winter, when pain from my back would not let me sleep, I loved to pace from room to room, chilled with night, waiting the emerging gray of morning, with the line of pine trees marking out the old boundary to this property.  Even as I have worked long and hard hours this fall, with scarce the energy to climb my stairs to bed at night, never mind hike in the woods I love, I have been glad.

It may have taken the economic meltdown of 2008 to make it clear to everyone: a house is not necessarily a good investment.  What goes up can indeed go down.

But love lasts.  I am in love with my home; I am in love with the sweet autumn hills of New England.  And I'm so glad I did not allow thoughts of caution or thrift or a faux-simplicity (for real simplicity is about clearing our lives of clutter in order to grow closer to Spirit, and living here has done that for me) to turn us aside from buying this house.

I am remorselessly grateful to be home.




Friday, October 22, 2010

Eating In

Mmmm... supper!

I started by baking my own bread, in an attempt to get affordable bread without all the plastic packaging.  One thing led to another, and I returned to making my own pie crusts, as I had in college--only this time, making one to use now, and freezing the second--buying local produce and freezing it, then pickling it and turning it into jams and jellies, and finally into getting pretty much all of my produce local and organic.

But it's almost winter here in New England, and my favorite farmstand has closed for the winter, and I'm reluctant either to give up fresh produce, or to go back to buying the stuff hauled in from California, plastic-wrapped and ready for me at the local supermarket.

In fact, if all goes well, tonight's salad may be the last grocery store lettuce I'll need.

My fingers are firmly crossed; I've never been much of a gardener, though I lived with one as a child, and I know how much better home-grown anything tends to be.

But I've got this south-facing window.  And some packets of lettuce seeds.

Lettuce does not grow well in warm weather, and round about August, it began to be hard to get local lettuce of any kind, organic or otherwise.  And I thought about that for a while, and took advantage of the remaindered, end-of-season lettuce seeds for sale in the local stores.

I also decided to take into account my personal brown thumb, and I went ahead and invested in a couple of self-watering planters.  And for the past two weeks, I've been anxiously watching over the gradually materializing glow of green leaf lettuce filling those two planters.

I'm almost ready to start using a few thinnings in a sandwich or two.  And so far, they're looking good: very much like, well, young lettuce.  I am hopeful that I'll soon be able to replace the non-local romaine in my salad bowl with the ultimate in local food, stuff from my own windowsill.  There's plenty of sun, and, thanks to chilly New England nights and our stinginess with our fuel bills, it's just about the perfect temperature for lettuce in our house at night.

We're not stopping there, however.  I'm also sprouting alfalfa seeds that I ordered from an organic online source.  It's a little bit of a pain, to rinse them each morning and evening, just before and after work, but the yield is pretty amazing.  For $7.50, I have enough seeds to last me all through the winter, and then some.  A tablespoon of seed fills a quart jar with sprouts in about a week.

Supper tonight?  Besides the store-bought romaine, I've got about 1/2 cup of alfalfa sprouts, some nice local red onion, and the tart green tomatoes from my neighbor's garden.  (It turns out that people who grow things in the dirt will give them to you, just to be nice.  And it turns out to be fun to give things back--stuff like pickles, and bread.)

This has not been a plastic-free adventure.  The planters are largely plastic, and the jar the pound of alfalfa seeds came in was, too, alas.  And it will take a while before the plastic used in producing and packaging these items, as well as the petroleum consumed in getting them to me, will be balanced by the impact of the in-house winter veggie production.

And the lettuce is experimental.  Perhaps it will not work.  (In which case, I'll try my hand at organic microgreens next!)

But there's a particular satisfaction in finding ways that my initial prompting, to try to reduce our plastic waste, has been leading us deeper and deeper into concerns like neighborliness, local food, sustainable agriculture, and now, the joy of a tiny windowsill garden.

Tomorrow, I may eat the rest of that soup I made a few days ago, with local squash and onions and peppers in it.  The day after that, perhaps I will plant the Chinese chestnut saplings given us by a friend.

And someday, perhaps I'll be eating even more locally than I did this summer: from my own backyard.

One small change can lead to others.  (Excuse me, now.  I've got a salad to finish.  Yum!)



Saturday, October 09, 2010

Bear Magic


I just came back from a walk in our woods, and for the first time, I have seen a bear.
 
Oh, I've seen cubs before, even before we moved out of downtown.  As woods have grown up around the small cities in Western Massachusetts, bears have found places to live that are awkwardly close to humans; about a year ago, for instance, the wildlife police had to remove a mother bear with cubs who had made a den in a drainage culvert in the heart of a thickly settled neighborhood.  We even had a treed bear in a sidewalk oak tree just off Main Street a few years back.  That took some pretty skillful work to remove the bear cub without killing him.

And it's well known that only a fool leaves a bird feeder in place once the snow starts to melt.  Bears love bird feeders.  And garbage, so it's a good idea to plan accordingly, especially if you have dogs or small children.

All that is common sense.  So, yeah, I've seen bears before, and I've known about bears for years.

But it's not the same.  

I was out hiking the trails behind our house, admiring the views just starting to emerge where the leaves are thinning to a scrim of green and gold at the crest of the ridge, and thinking to myself, "I know there are bears in these woods.  I wonder why I have never seen one?"  

I've seen so many deer that I've almost become blase about it.  (Almost.  There is something so regal about a deer, particularly with antlers, that I can't imagine ever taking them truly for granted.)  I see turkey, wild geese, red-tailed hawks, red squirrels... all kinds of critters.  But not--until today--a bear.

I'd reached the place at the top of a steep scramble through dense hemlock trees--I was meditating on the place of hemlocks and chestnuts in New England forests, past and future, and wondering how the few deciduous trees would respond if woolly adelgids remove the hemlocks from slopes like the one I was on--when I turned onto a sunny bit of path, glanced up, and saw the bear.  Fully grown, large, alone.  A male?

I had been singing, quietly, as I walked.  When I saw the bear, I froze for an instant, the hairs on the back of my neck riffling in the breeze... and then raised my voice a bit louder in song.

(It was a nicely appropriate song.  One of my own, with very few words, in a minor key but with an upbeat tempo, about turning the Wheel of the Year.  Suitable to the occasion of encountering a bear feasting in preparation for winter, I thought.)

The bear, unconcerned, continued on his way upslope, into a beautiful stretch of white pines and oaks behind barbed wire, posted against trespassers.  Bears, of course, pay no attention to such signs.

I admired the smoothness of his walk, the beauty of his shape, for just a moment more, then bowed, called out a blessing, and turned back and returned along the same trail I had been following.

I'm not a very theological Pagan.  I take my gods and my spirits as I find them, and they do not necessarily have a place in any historical pantheon.  There is the Dark Lady of Vernal Pools, for instance, whom I sometimes sense at the bottoms of muddy spring puddles and streams.  There is the spirit of deer and forest and time, whom I call by the name Herne, though that is almost certainly not his name.  There's Rosie, the Lady who spins at the root of a great tree in a vast cavern of dreams...

And there are the elder brothers and sisters, the deer, the oaks... the bears.

All things, in their right places, are filled with magic, with numen.  And today, I got to see my elder brother, the bear, in his home.  It was not surprising.

But it was very, very good.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Since My Last Confession

OK, so I'm not Catholic.  But it has been a very long time since my last confession here--meaning, the last time I posted our weigh-in of plastic trash and recycling.  (Why do I count recycling?  Because, although I do recycle everything I can, plastic is not like aluminum or glass that can recycle endlessly; plastic actually "downcycles" and becomes, essentially, hazardous waste for thousands of years after only a handful of reuses.  So it all counts, sooner or later.)

The last time I posted our weigh-in was back in July: a two-week tally of 3 lbs. 1 oz.

In the ten weeks since then, we have generated 6 lbs, 7 oz. of trash, which would average out to about 17 lbs of plastic waste per year per person for each of us... in comparison with an American average of over 80 lbs per person.

Of course, I'm not counting my totaled automobile in that amount.  I have to hope that many of the plastic parts will be salvaged, and used on other cars.

But I am counting the dead twenty-year-old eggbeater that we disposed of last month.  And we're still coming in with a lighter yearly average, based on the last few weeks, then we did at the beginning of the project. 

So, while I compromised the weigh-in part of the no-plastics diet, Peter and I did manage--mostly--to stay on it.

So, what made up our trash over the past two months?

  • Construction packaging.  We moved into a new/old house, and some parts--replacement springs and housings for the windows upstairs, for instance--were only available by special order, and came packed in--ugh--styrofoam.
  • Old products we no longer buy, like toothpaste in plastic tubes, or deodorant in plastic.
  • Lots and lots and lots of plastic caps for glass bottles.
  • Packing materials for the canning jars I bought to try to preserve local produce over the winter.
  • Prescription drug containers.  No avoiding these, apparently--and they aren't even recyclable.
  • One yogurt container--we haven't begun making our own yet.
  • Plastic pull tabs on frozen juice containers--and, yeah, there's a thin plastic membrane lining the paper tube, too.  We are starting to regard this as an occasional luxury, rather than a staple in our diet; both from the standpoint of food-miles and plastic packaging, this makes sense.
  • Straws and even one plastic cup from times we weren't quick enough to make sure to tell the waitress not to give them to us.  (We still goof from time to time.)
I will admit that I have on a couple of occasions not only forgotten, when out at a restaurant with friends, to ask for no straws or plastic containers (for sour cream, salad dressing, etc.) but even to bring the offending item home with me at the end of the night.

However, I've come to appreciate the way that requesting no plastic turns into a kind of opening to witness to the importance of reducing plastic trash.  Not because I make speeches, but because the waitress asks about it.

I can see why No Impact Man chose to use a canning jar for his commuter mug, too.  I mean, I'm very fond of my stainless steel mug.  But there's no question that using a canning jar makes its own quiet statement about the need to challenge and change our current consumerist culture.

That's it for now.

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