This is my lovely bucket of kitchen scraps: lemon rinds, coffee grinds, avocado pits, carrot ends, beet skins, and Chinese cabbage leaves. One half of all the garbage I generate in my kitchen is from my mainly plant-based diet. But I am bereft! I am a compost orphan. I wander the streets of my very well kept, highly manicured neighbourhood looking for a place to dump my compost!
Occasionally a landscaping company comes through the condo compound where I live; and the guys with the loud leaf blowers kindly allow me to add what they call my “organics” to the bags of leaves that they collect and haul off to some distant leaf composting station which I have yet to locate.
But I generate too much compost too fast, and I am on my second bucket by the time they come back two weeks later. I have tried neighbours, but no one here gardens! (It is a lovely community artfully landscaped, but a virtual green desert.) I went and asked at all the local groceries including Whole Foods: no joy! Even the local juicing place doesn’t compost (sigh*).
I will admit to being very spoiled. When I lived in the country in Vermont, I had composting piles out back by the garden beds. Even in Providence, Rhode Island, a good sized city, I was able to build a small compost heap behind my apartment building. And then, of course, there is Montreal, which just instituted curb-side compost pickup (be still my heart!) last year in my neighbourhood (Verdun).
I have even considered starting a worm farm in my apartment. But though it would take care of the kitchen scraps by turning them into fabulous worm castings, perfect for fertilizing a garden, I would then be reduced to trying to find a place to donate the worm fertilizer. Also, this is a temporary stay for me, and my daughter is adamant that she will not adopt the worms when I return North.
It is times like this that I have the unsettling feeling that I have moved to an alternative reality!
In a recent blog post, I wrote briefly about a family that became disconnected from their past: their connection to the land, their cooking traditions, and their own bodies. This happened over three generations as the family members made radical changes to fit into the rapid revolution of the society around them. Like most Americans, they believed that what everyone else was doing must be right, and progress can never be wrong.
Except in our present dilemma, the mainstays of our progress “cheap, fast, & easy” are wrong; and they are sickening us and will eventually lead to our destruction. But why can’t most of us understand this, and why are we not focussed on saving ourselves and our planet (which are clearly the same thing)?!
Many people I know who are concerned about the destruction of our ecosphere are asking the same question, but many more are avoiding the whole subject. This is very troubling and makes me wonder if our species is suicidal or just hopelessly narcissistic. Happily, much smarter people than I have written books answering this question, the best of which are George Marshall’s Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, and Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. (Margaret Heffernan’s Willful Blindness is also a good read on this topic.)
The bad news is that the ecodestruction we are experiencing is part of what is termed a “wicked problem” in opposition to a “tame problem.” A wicked problem is multivalent, incomplete, contradictory, constantly changing, and complex. It is also, in case you haven’t noticed, very anxiety-producing! And we humans have many strategies to cope with extreme anxiety, from denial to avoidance to willful blindness. The silence we see in main stream media is a reflection of the lack of discussion of environmental destruction and extreme climate change within families.
The good news is that many societies far less wealthy or technologically advanced than ours managed to create a healthy lifestyle over a very long period of time while maintaining and even improving their environment, and we can use them as templates for our own problems. The connections that can be found between a Highland New Guinean community that has been living well on the same ground for close on 46,000 years (!) and early 21st century Americans seems to reside in a localization of information about the environment and how to best use it. The first necessity seems to me to pay a patient and profound attention to both the great and small expressions of the natural world.
And this brings me back to my typical American family: urbanized, insulated from Nature by technology (did I fail to mention that this family has a television in every room and runs the TV from the moment they awake to the minute they go to sleep?), and unaware of the changes in the natural world around them. But they are not alone in this. Most people in my neighborhood have their properties sprayed with pesticides and have the leaves that are falling at this time of year collected and carted off the grounds. My own daughter views a spider or a roach that has found its way into our apartment to be a terrifying apparition!
So what I am suggesting is not a radical “naturalization” (for want of a better word) of our lives, but, to begin with, a small more localized awareness of our environment. Pay attention to the trees, the birds, the insects, the small mammals that are your neighbors. One of the interesting things about going to live for a couple of months in a very different environment is how amazing the flora and fauna are here compared to where I come from! https://www.facebook.com/dfwurbanwildlife.page/?hc_ref=ARTxkOeVeA9-Xmx2bf4jx0RRVuRJbD-q2E-2XeQTY7QaaBnlviR5Qv7NtvzAqnen_UM
One of the reasons that I moved to Montreal, Canada eight years ago (beside it being the best place to dance tango in North America!) was the amount of wild nature that can be seen even in the heart of the city. I have raccoons, skunks, foxes, raptors, ground hogs (what the French call marmots) near my apartment in Verdun (though I would prefer a bit more distance from the skunks and raccoons!). There is an ethical value to letting a bit of wildness into your neighbourhood (and that includes not manicuring your garden into a green desert): it will give you a more realistic idea of our place in the natural order, and will work against the human folly of arrogance.
So take a break once in a while from the man-made world (I don’t call this the “unnatural” world: we, each and every one of us, are creatures of nature): turn off the machines, close down the screens, shut out the mechanical noise. Even at her most domestic and everyday level, Nature is far more engrossing, complex, and subtle than anything invented by humans. And for a wake up call on what is the real bedrock of our world and our health, check out The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health by David Montgomery & Anne Bilké!
Because if we are not even aware of the natural world around us today, if we don’t even pay attention to it in our everyday lives, how can we be expected to care about its future planetwide demise?!
but the actual experience of walking here has been positively surreal! Coming from eight years of living in Montreal, and taking for granted that people walk whenever possible, I was not prepared to find myself the only person walking around the streets of Dallas. This sounds like an exaggeration, but truly it is not!
I live in the Oak Lawn section of town, https://www.walkscore.com/TX/Dallas, an half an hour walk from downtown and to most of central Dallas. It is a beautiful part of the city (and Dallas is surprisingly lovely), but at any hour of the day or night, the only people on the street are the dog walkers, an occasional jogger, the indigent, and me. Now that might be understandable in the summer months when the temperature is in the triple digits Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), but there is no reason for this at a time of year when the weather is sunny, cool, and perfect! But the citizens of Dallas are so habituated to their cars, that I don’t think that they even notice the change in weather!!
This is the first time in my life I have lived in a car-centric place, and it is really bizarre! Even during morning or afternoon rush hours, the city feels as if it is deserted. There are, of course, thousands of people sitting in their cars, but the cars are closed (air conditioning seems to be a necessity no matter what the weather!), so I have the uncanny sensation that I am all alone on the street!
It is not so much that the city is hostile to pedestrians as that it seems to have decided that since so few people of any standing (read young, well-to-do & white) actually use them, Dallas presents places to walk without the accompanying functionality of those spaces. There are sidewalks along most streets (though not, interestingly in the very wealthiest neighborhoods), but they are often closed by construction with no where to go, for the walker, but in the street with the cars. There are crosswalks at most corners, but the walk lights are often calibrated to give the pedestrian about ten seconds to get across before they change to a flashing stop, and this is when the pedestrian signs work at all. If one is an older or disabled person, the crossing is impossible.
It is also really dangerous to cross a busy street even with the light as Dallas, unlike Montreal, permits a right turn on red; and drivers are so unused to people in the crosswalk that they often turn without looking. I have taken to getting the attention of the driver in the right hand lane (even if I have to knock on the car hood to make him look up from his cellphone) before the light changes and I head across the road!! Also, Dallas is structured with a number of high speed highways and tollroads dividing the city into various neighborhoods and districts, and walking the overpasses across those highways with the traffic coming into or out of them is not my favorite part of walking Dallas.
Turtle Creek, Dallas
Still, I continue to explore Dallas on foot. In the past two months I have seen some beautiful parks (including along the Turtle Creek near my home), and visited some of the fine libraries & museums in the town. And when I do pass anyone on the street, no matter his or her race or aspect, I am always greeted by a warm “How are you doing, Ma’am? You have a good one!” which is one of the perks I love of living in a Southern town.
It would make me happy to see Dallas switch into a more sustainable mode of living.
If the habit of driving could be replaced with the habit of walking, especially for folks commuting locally and doing errands in their neighborhoods (and yes, I am one of the few people trundling my rolling shopping cart to the nearby grocery store with me- to my daughter’s chagrin!) Dallas could become a healthier more integrated town.
The courtyard of my apartment complex in Dallas, Texas. You can make out a banana tree at the far left by the stairs!*
Howdy, y’all! Here I am, for the winter, in Dallas, Texas…not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I would be a “snowbird” in what is, in the U.S., the Deep South. (The West does not technically start until a few miles farther west in Fort Worth.)
But coming down here to spend the winter and early Spring months was a decision intimately connected to a larger change of life that I have been experiencing the past year. The news has been uniformly bad, and although I am not of a pessimistic mindset, I believe that we have passed the tipping point to an increase of 4 degrees warming that will cause a catastrophic collapse of many environmental systems.
So to be very clear, I do not expect the changes (“the better choices” that I am and will be making) to do very much to avert the coming disaster. And, though I am by nature a “fixer” (and many of my friends will know what that means!), I am resisting the urge to tell other people (including my own daughter) what they should do under this environmental crisis. Instead, I am simply going to document my choices and explain my reasons for my change in life and lifestyle.
One of the central reasons that I am investing the time & energy on redoing my way of living is that I believe that in the very near future we will all be forced to reform our profligate lifestyles; and I think that it will make it easier & less stressed to be proactive about changing before it is forced on us. The crux of our challenge is how to switch from a worldview that privileges personal accumulation (of money, power, property, etc.) speed, and personal gratification (no matter at what the cost) to a much slower, simpler, and less “glamorous” way of living.
The idea of “progress” is so embedded in our lives & in our economic system that it feels almost counter-intuitive to reject it, and try to return to an older simpler way of living. The whole definition of progress is that each generation will live far better than the one before. But the problem with human progress is how fast it is expected to happen. In this it is in direct and dangerous opposition to progress as it plays out naturally and even culturally. The Western capitalist lifestyle in particular rejects the more ancient indigenous methods of living as backward even though the solutions contained in these modes of livelihood have been tested and incrementally improved over generations!
Though I don’t like (or even approve of) most of this Western life style, I am finding it very challenging to extricate myself from a fossil fuel dependent way of living, and from very long ingrained habits! Now, my strategy for facing a problem is first to read myself through it. So in the past year I have read a considerable amount, first on the crisis itself, and then about ways to avoid some of the more egregious pitfalls, and maybe even ameliorate this dire dilemma. My booklist can be found in the sidebar at the right.
The reading continues, but now I am making some substantial changes in my life. Some things have been in place for a long time; some are in the process of being instituted; and some are plans for my future. Because it is just me, these are all tiny steps, but they are part of greater systems; and I hope that some of them will turn out to be keystone actions.
My goal of a sustainable life will include new (for me) ways of moving through the world; eating, growing food, and cooking; getting rid of waste; and developing a community from which to learn & get moral support. I hope to connect with other people working through the same challenges!
*If you go back to my previous posts, you will notice that I have removed all the photos except for the ones I took. I have been “borrowing” photos online which is not kosher (read illegal) or fair to the photographers who made them. From this point forward, all the photos or illustrations will be my own work!