A few days ago, Melinda at Elements In Time asked readers to comment on what it was that made them become passionate about environmental issues. I responded, but I've continued to think about this since then. What made me, a conservative Midwesterner, raised in the red half of the Twin Cities, and a devout Baptist, also add into my identity the color green? How could I possibly integrate this element into the other elements and come up with an alloy that would hold together? I know this has been a mystery to some of my friends, and certainly to some of my blogging friends, and I'm sure there are people who are convinced I will eventually give up the green thing as some fad that has passed, and there are other people who secretly believe that I will turn from the dark side and renounce my moderately conservative evangelical world view as a relic of our Puritan past.
But that's not going to happen. It all works just fine for me. It's all been part of the real me since I was a child, really. I can care about sustainability without crossing the line into New Age Gaia worship; I can base my social conservatism on Biblical principles; I can evaluate economic systems based on what I think is most compassionate to the the poor and encouraging to the hard-working, and I can do that without hating people who disagree with me. Because, honestly, nobody walking this earth right now has it all figured out, and so we might as well keep talking respectfully with each other, and just enjoying each other as companions on the road of life.
I look back on a childhood spent, basically, outside. Okay, maybe I was a bit of a tom-boy, but really, children back then were pretty much expected to play outside. You came home from school, you changed out of your dress and school shoes into play clothes and you went outside. So did all the other kids in the neighborhood (and it was the baby boom so there were a lot of kids!), and you played. Or, if you wanted some alone time, you laid on the grass and looked at the clouds, or you sat in the crab apple tree and read a book. There were vacant lots, in which we dug holes. Why, I don't know, but we dug them. We girls played house in the weeds, and we made dinners of sour clover served on giant velvet-leaf platters. If it was cold we played in the snow. And there weren't any parents out there supervising, so stuff happened. I fell through the ice into a pond once. I fell out of trees a few times. I fell off a skateboard and broke my wrist. I ran a toboggan into a tree. I wasn't a clumsy child, I just wasn't safely sitting in front of a TV. None of us were. If there was blood, we went in a got a hug and a band-aide, and maybe a graham cracker, and then we went back outside. Our mothers did not bat an eye if we got filthy; they expected that. It meant we had played hard and had a good time. It meant that they could put us to bed at 8pm and know we'd be sound asleep in about two minutes.
So, I grew up loving the natural outside world, where you could watch a cercropia moth emerge from it's cocoon and stretch it's wings. Where you could pull foxtail stems to chew on. Where you could look up at the sky and think, "Looks like it's going to rain here in a minute. I'd better hurry home!" Where you could find baby bunnies in the weeds where their mothers had hidden them. Where you could find broken bird eggshells to add to your cigar-box full of special rocks and jay feathers, and honey-locust seed-pods. Kids don't get to do that so much anymore, and I think that's too bad. That's how I came to love the natural world and want to preserve it.
I watched and helped my grandparents garden on a pretty grand scale, both vegetables and flowers. I also watched my dad work hard on the city council to help site a new landfill when the old one got full, and become one of the earliest advocates of recycling. We were recycling at our house before anyone else I knew, because he thought it was imperative that we not use up our land fill options. I saw the beginnings of the environmental movement locally when some residents decided to prevent the damming of the Sangamon that would have flooded Allerton Park. I was in eighth grade when the first EarthDay was celebrated. I took a wonderful biology-for-non-majors sequence in college that turned me on to the amazing world around me even further. I camped and hiked, ran and biked.
I wanted my sky to stay blue, I wanted my favorite butterflies to visit my flowers every year. I wanted my children to have the same experiences that I had had, and was disappointed that they couldn't quite do that, because things had already changed too much. My husband and I always tried to instill that love of the outdoors in them through hiking and camping. We taught them to recycle, to think about how they transported themselves, to avoid wasting resources because they were valuable for all kinds of reasons, to be frugal so you could give to those less fortunate, to avoid ostentation because it was better to cultivate humility. It all went together.
I have believed for some time that we need to make some pretty significant lifestyle changes so we can keep from poisoning ourselves with our own waste. Then, a year or so ago one of my sons put me on to Colin Beavan's No Impact Man blog, and I was fascinated. I didn't agree with a lot of his politics, but that was okay; I admired his efforts to challenge all of us to evaluate the way we live.
I started to hear about Al Gore's movie. I was reluctant to see it, because, no offense to Mr. Gore, but he always seemed like kind of a dull speaker, and I couldn't imagine watching him for two hours. My husband was not at all interested in wasting movie rental money on a documentary of any kind, but especially this one. However, gradually we began to feel we should see it so we could discuss it intelligently with those who had watched it. I promised myself that I would try to keep an open mind. After seeing it, to my real surprise, I felt he made his case, and so did my husband. We decided to push ourselves further to practice a greener way of life.
The most daunting thing for us is all the political nonsense that everyone wants to add into the issue of climate change. But, whatever, my husband and I are going to live by our convictions on this issue just like we do on all the others. So, everyone, left and right, can think we're weirdos. Oh, well; that's nothing new.