A good weekend.

Saturday, Jeff and the boys went to church to climb the steeple, a tradition for those who have finished the coming of age program. It turned out the Old West End festival was in full swing by the time they climbed down, and they got to see a parade. They waved at the mayor, saw the Toledo Symphony go by on a flat bed truck, horses, and the Toledo Glassmen marching band… clowns, roller skaters, and the whole routine.

Meanwhile, Molly and I rode our bikes to the guild after breakfast to unload and reload the class kilns. If I had taken a picture for this blog entry, it should have been my view, following Molly’s girly little bike. She’s got a bright pink helmet, hot pink and orange tye-dyed shirt, sparkly streamers off the end of her handlebars, and her little tennis shoes just pumping away… she hangs a littl epurse off the handlebars with her treasures in it. It tickled me to see people in passing cars grinning at her.

The neighborhood still seems impossibly green, after a cold grey winter. We ride by huge clusters of fragrant, fist sized peonies, bearded Iris, and Stella D’oro lillies just ready to bloom.

Molly put on protective glasses, found a hammer and chisel, and chipped chunks of glaze off the kiln shelves for me while I unloaded class pots. Then we rode through the neighborhood behind the guild and visited several garage sales. (I had my bike trailer, but we didn’t find anything irresistable.) We ended up at the grocery store and managed to fit $115 worth of groceries into the trailer, including several half-price bags of bargain pet bedding. It was a tight squeeze! I am sure I exceeded the two-toddlers weight limit, but it rode home quite easily.

I worked in the sunny yard all afternoon, turning and harvesting last year’s compost and building another raised bed. I’m thinking a few tomato plants are just NOT going to do it, the way I had originally imagined. Last summer before I started school I tore out the 30X40 veggie garden I’ve had (in various sizes) since we moved here in ’91, but I missed it more than I thought I would. I was only considering the weeding and work, but hadn’t realized how much I would miss eggplant on the grill, tomatoes warm off the vine, and the way the garden feeds my eyes and my head.

I am thinking more about the way we feed ourselves. I have Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and the new “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral” book on my list of things to read, but haven’t managed to pick them up yet at the library. (I’m reading beekeeping books, mostly, and old Ceramics Monthly mags).

I have always canned and preserved, because my farm grandma did. And I’ve always loved farmer’s markets. But when I consider the stats on how many miles the food on our plates has to travel to get there — isn’t 1500 miles the estimate? — and how much energy that takes, it seems sensible to grow your own, and buy local when you can. Lord knows our local economy can use all the help it can get.

Here’s my disclaimer: I have no illusion that I’m saving the world with my tomato plants and my bike. I fire my electric kilns to over 2000 degrees to make art the world could live without, and sit here nightly typing on a computer that is sucking energy every night. Even Barbara Kingsolver with her year of eat-local experiments wasn’t willing to give up her olive oil. I’m good with that too. We all have to make choices.

And frankly, if one more person tells me what Al Gore’s electric bill is, I’m just going to lose it and hop down the street yelling WOOHOO! WOOHOO! WOOHOO! like Daffy Duck. Being married to an environmental biologist, I am equally disinterested in being retold Rush Limbaugh’s theories about global warming.

Everybody assumes that because we consider ourselves environmentalists, that Al must be our hero. The truth is, I prefer David Suzuki to Gore. I haven’t even seen “The” movie, though I am not unhappy about the conversations it has started. I’d love to see him go solar, too (I supect he can afford it) — but nobody’s hands are completely clean, really, and he hasn’t called to check with me.

It seems to me that the goal is to do something to offset the impact we all have. One could argue that Gore has done something to help the environment.

I’m sure there are some arrogant, granolier-than-thou folks out there who feel ethically superior to all mankind for buying hybrid cars and organic produce. I suspect there are some equally short sighted, self involved people who see the “Al Gore’s Electric Bill” information as permission to dismiss any concern about their own unexamined wastefullness, as well.

My feelings about the environment have always been part of my life, and not necessarily tied to politics. As a kid who read Ranger Rick, I remember taking a petition around the neighborhood to protest the clubbing of baby Harp seals. (I remember my neighbor Jim Bankey signing, and then asking with a wink, “If they weren’t so cute, do you think anyone would care?”

When the kids were little I had an earth day party every year. We read Denise Fleming’s “Where Once There Was A Wood”, and planted a tree, holding hands around the sapling to recite a blessing for it once it was in the ground. We’ve made bird and wildlife friendly areas in our otherwise suburban yard, and have always done busines swith or donated to earth friendly organizations. We worked with the urban gardens project, growing veggies in downtown vacant lots. So we were green before it was trendy.

Back in the days before Y2K when a) we were reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and b) I began to wonder how we’d do without the support of “the grid”, we used to have the occasional “Non-electric weekend”. We’d unplug everything but the fridge and sump pump. We covered the fridge with a sheet, cooked on the wood stove or outside. We made lanterns, played lots of board games, read aloud, and went to bed when it got dark. My kids still remember the experience and ask when we can do it again, but camping now provides that life-away-from-the-screens experience.

Sometimes I think the older I get, the smaller I draw my circle. When I had babies I felt so strongly about breastfeeding, attachment parenting and cosleeping that I was probably obnoxious about it, in retrospect. I also spent a lot of time defending and explaining our decision to homeschool, to friends, family and total strangers. It seemed essential to get past the misconceptions and stereotypes. Now, not so much.

Maybe I have grown weary of conflict. Maybe nothing seems so black and white in retrospect: every choice sacrifices something else, and people who have made very different choices than ours have raised great kids and taught me along the way.

But mostly, I think it’s that I no longer feel the need for everybody to “get it”. I’ll be 46 this month, and I trust my own instincts and experience. Our experiments seem to be working. I don’t believe that mine are the only answers, but I believe that they fit for me, my family, my kids.

I suspect our childrens’ generation will look back at ours, and be aghast at the waste. Financially we don’t seem to offer our childrens’ children much promise of retirement security or affordable health care. The resources we use so freely — clean water, air, fossil fuels — won’t last forever, at this rate. When my friend returned from a year in the Peace Corps in Africa, where people walked a mile for a bucket of fresh water, she was horrified to watch a neighbor hosing off his driveway. I suspect our kids might have similar feelings, remembering what we took for granted.

No, I am not wracked with guilt about every little pleasure that isn’t “green”. But I am happy to see the tide turning. I didn’t like it when my corny old Organic Gardening magazine became slick and expensive, or when “simple living” became a marketable concept pushing organic hemp eye pillows and flax-stuffed yoga mats.

But it wasn’t that long ago that you couldn’t buy organic milk at my grocery store; now there are
three brands. Same for eggs, produce, and free range meat.

I had a hippie friend in Eugene who had a two word answer to everything: “Tread Lightly”. When conversations turned to arguments and push came to shove, he’d say to the combatants, “tread lightly”. It applied to everything from road rage to logging virgin forest, from waking the neighbors with late night partying to flicking cigarette butts into the street.

That’s all I am after, with my garden and my bike. I’d like to tread lightly on my little corner of the world. I have invited a group of moms to make jam with me this month, and if it goes well we’ll maybe can tomatoes, or peaches together. Many hands make light work, the Shakers used to say.. and I grew up canning in a farm kitchen with my grandma, mom and aunt. So, yeah, it does my conscience some good, and sets a good example for my kids to follow (and skills they may well need, if one day we can no longer afford to pay a banana’s plane ticket.)

But mostly my bike trips burn calories, make Molly happy, show me neighborhood peonies and save me $3.40 a gallon for gas.

And mostly my garden makes me happy, and keeps me eating veggies.

And a kitchen full of moms should be a lot of fun, as well.

So maybe it’s not so much about saving the world. Maybe it’s all about me. I’m good with that.