A colleague and I talked this afternoon at lunch about recycling, composting, gardening, walking barefoot at work on our breaks, and our love for avocados and that sweet, short time they are ripe enough to eat. As she was deliberating what in our office could get recycled, she shared with me the fact that maybe 30% of plastics get recycled, although we who recycle believe it all goes to the magical recycling factory nearby and gets put to good use as someone’s new water bottle, birdhouse, or even fancy, light-weight tennis shoes. That bummed me out, but she said there’s hope. There are scientists and inventors out there thinking outside of the box trying to figure out our waste and consumption problem and what to create out of recycled materials such as hard plastics.
After seeing the documentary, Dirt, about our use and abuse of this green earth, I have been trying hard to become a little more conscientious of my daily treatment of mother Gaia. I started a compost pile (that is now too hard for me to turn and I better invest in a pitchfork or a fancy rolling bin), kept up my recycling, and started picking up trash in my neighborhood as I walk my dog. And there’s always stuff to pick up and recycle, throw away, or compost: milk jugs, McDonald’s containers, rubber bands, soda cans, cereal boxes, cardboard egg cartons, rotting apples, peach pits, plastic bags, and tampons with dispensers (I admit, I left that one in the street for about 3 days before I finally got brave and picked it up with paper towels and a leftover sandwich bag I found on the ground).
It’s very easy, and quite understandable, to ignore the little things we see around us because we’re so focused on running here and there and doing this and that. And I put myself in the category of doing the ecologically sound thing out of convenience and cost for me. We say to ourselves: My life seems fairly clean and orderly enough. How can the world be in such a mess and in pain when my home, my car, my job, my neighborhood are functioning fairly decently, minus a few bits of trash, bills, annoyances and mini-dramas along the way? The problems are out there in other parts of the world. Nothing has changed too much here, and though that either comforts me, frustrates me, or confuses me, at least my life has some consistency and order. But, I can no longer fully go back into that hazy state of thinking. And here’s why: I have been feeling disconnected to others and my surroundings lately. That worries me because there’s nothing more that I long for than a sense of feeling connected, grounded, and a part of this world.
I walk my dog in the evening and I try to listen to the breeze blowing through the whispering pines and instead I hear the sirens of police cars, fire trucks or ambulances. I look up into the sky to admire the moon and stars and get fixated on the numerous planes that fly over my neighborhood to and from the airport or the Air Force base nearby. I try to look at the wild geese that have gathered on the frozen lake and my view is blocked by 2 story houses with three car garages that have wooden fences surrounding them. I tear up when I see the carcasses of raccoons, squirrels, and the occasional deer scattered and smashed on the busy streets as we drive over or around them. My heart gets heavy when I see deer foraging in the muddied farmer’s field that is soon to be stripped away by yet another QuikTrip or Circle K gas station to compete with the BP or MotoMart gas station across the street. Where do all the wild things go as we quickly and aggressively encroach on their land to build more Walgreens, Targets, Ikeas, bike shops, hiking shops, restaurants, bars and wine stores and more new stuff to divert us from simply being?
Where do the birds go when the oaks, the maples, the pines, the hickories, the sycamores, the walnuts, and all the brushes and vines are torn down to make way for the new chiropractic office, the Center for Fecal Incontinence or the Kidney Dialysis of Southern Illinois take their place? We think we are ill because there’s more stress in this world, but we are stressing ourselves out because there is less of the natural world out there to help us connect to the natural world inside ourselves.
Where do the worms, the daddy-long legs, the garden spiders, the fish, the frogs, the butterflies, and the bees go when we rip up the ground and dig up native grasses and plants to put in field upon field of annual wheats and corns that strip the land of nutrients, are sprayed with chemicals that get into our water system, and lead to soil erosion? We eat our processed food from a package and forget that food actually comes from the land. We stop tasting and keep consuming in hopes that we will one day be full enough and happy enough and unstressed enough to enjoy a moment of sunshine on our faces or a bite of a juicy peach.
In the meantime, our very guides and teachers of the natural world who can lead us to that mysterious and elusive point of soul within us are leaving us as quickly as we are leaving them.
What, then, can we do to help ourselves reconnect to our very essence that is natural and soulful? I think the answer lies in going outside to get inside ourselves. Be in nature and really start listening, seeing, feeling, tasting, touching all that is around us. Go past the strip malls and search for a beautiful clearing of the meadow and woodlands that are still there and are lit up by the setting sun. Listen deeper to the whispering pine and the playful breeze as they have a conversation above the competing sirens and mufflers. Buy a piece of fruit or vegetable from the farmer’s stand or grocery store and eat it with great attention and reverence. While you’re at the stoplight, watch as a hawk swiftly and gracefully dives from a telephone pole and circles the nearby field in search of prey.
And if we’re really bold and brave, we will wake up from our dream (or is it a nightmare?) and stay awake long enough to do the small things that can help the world. Build the community garden you’ve been talking about. Enroll in a local gardening club or nature course. Save your money and buy that big churning compost bin off of Amazon. Continue to pick up trash around your neighborhood. Feed the birds in your backyard and keep the native trees and shrubs and perennials around your perimeter instead of opting for a fancy fence. Buy more food that is locally sourced. Contact your local government and find out information on city ordinances on using prairie grass in your yard’s landscape. For if we all do small things to take care of our wild nature (both within and without ourselves), we will start building up enough consciousness, mindfulness, self-healing and love to build a less disconnected community of bored and emotionally unfulfilled people to a more heart-centered, unique and creative collective of individuals who feel more like a family that is willing to take care of our ailing Mother Earth.