Sunday, April 22, 2007

My grandparents were the original environmentalists.

They never called themselves environmentalists, and they probably never even thought of themselves that way, but looking at how they lived—a hardworking Kansas wheat farmer and his wife—they embodied many of the practices we can use today to lessen our footprint on this planet. I’m not sure what happened between their generation’s way of thinking to now, but today is Earth Day, and as I reflect on my own actions and way of living, and actions or changes I wish to make to be a better steward of the earth, I realize my grandmother’s “quirky ways” then are those I aspire to now.
-Going into town - yes, they lived in a rural area, so their “trip chaining” was pretty practical, but combining errands and trips into one is one way to reduce fuel use. This takes some planning, and my favorite, list making.
-Reduce - my grandparents weren’t huge consumers. They bought what the needed, and lived somewhat simply. Family, friends, community, music, the land -- these were things that filled their life.
-Re-use - Things that were purchased were meant to have a long life. I think one of the reasons for this is because there wasn’t trash service on the farm. My grandfather was the king of tinkerers, making things work out of other things. Grandma used old nylons and t-shirts for everything. Items on the farm had more than one life. Plastic bags, plastic containers, these things filled drawers in the kitchen. (I cringe nowadays to these one-use throw away ziploc containers at the grocery store.) Why buy these when you can collect your own?
-Growing a garden - Vegetables were abound in my grandparent’s farm. Tomatoes and squash, corn and beans. What wasn’t eaten fresh was canned and frozen.
-Why use electricity when you have wind and sun? My grandma had a huge clothesline. And she hung the laundry outside to dry. It smelled good, so much better than when it was dried in the dryer, and the image of grandpa’s overalls hanging up to dry on the line is one I’ll never forget.
My memories of farm life are romanticized. I know this. As a grandchild from the suburbs of Los Angeles, my yearly visits to the farm were a wondrous adventure into lives so very different from my own. But today is Earth Day, and while there are lots of good talk about carbon offsets, living off the grid, hybrid cars, these things aren’t for everyone. But being an environmentalist doesn’t have to require lots of money or aligning yourself with a political ideal. At its heart, living simply, making conscientious buying decisions, and re using the items that come into your life, can mean you're doing something pro active.
Happy Earth Day!


Samuel John Klein said...

That was so well taken and well said.

It's true. If you look at the "make do with what you have" ways of our grands and great-grands, it turns out that they really start to look like those "environmentalist whackos" that smug, self-satisfied (and usually self-described as "conservative") moderns like to mock.

But they knew a lot more about value than most people who think they do, do...and how to live within what you had instead of driving for more, more, more.

Thanks for this.

reasonably prudent poet said...

wow, i can really relate to what you write here, and am really happy to have read it. my farming grandparents were also the first environmentalists i knew. they did many of the things you mentioned, plus, they were the first people i knew to recycle! my grandad was taking pop cans to a recycling center decades before yellow recycling bins were ever dreamed of. they were/are definitely an inspiration. thanks for the reminder. :-)

Syd said...

You know, I never related that generation's frugality to conservation and the environment. But, it totally fits. Great observation.

Monogram Queen said...

Lelo I am currently re-reading the Little House books and how they did things "back then" just astounds me but makes so much sense. Happy Belated Earth Day

Rozanne said...

Excellent post!

My mom did a lot of the things your grandparents did. In fact, I'll bet my mom was a contemporary of your grandparents. My mom grew up in the Great Depression and boy did it imprint on her.

She saved everything and reused stuff like crazy. As a teenager, I thought she was just being cheap and weird. I hated the drawer stuffed to the gills with plastic bread bags to be reused and the dish scrubbies made out of old pantyhose or the nylon netting that onion bags were made of. She always rode her old clunker of a bike to the grocery store, too, and would come home with a week's worth of groceries bungy corded to it.

Hmmmm. Maybe I'd better write my own blog entry.

Now, of course, I realize she was right!

Anonymous said...

Congrats on OR passing the anti-discrimation law. Welcome to 1992. Here's hoping your lovely state (and it truly is; I lived there once) catches up to the rest of us in the Northeast and signs a civil union bill sometime in the next decade or so.

A friend in VT

Anonymous said...

Oh, and that's "discrimination".

Say hi to Portland for me.

weese said...