(Written January 2020, shortly before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As you can imagine, some of these goals got derailed by our loss of childcare and working full time jobs–but some flourished in the space that lockdown provided. I’ll try to elaborate on all of that in another post soon!).
For the last few years, I’ve watched as many of the issues in this country became crystal clear. The wealth disparities in the United States are bigger than ever (the top 1% hold 40% of all wealth). Greed drives people to stockpile more resources than they can ever use. Even the poorest among us are trapped in a capitalistic treadmill of constant consumption.
As a result, the natural world is suffering. Between mass extinctions, disappearing forests, and collections of garbage in the ocean larger than entire states, it is clear that humans are reaching a tipping point.
By separating ourselves from the natural world, we have given it a death sentence: we have “othered” the wild places and wild things that frequent them, and in doing so given ourselves permission to destroy them for our own gain.
And to add the cherry on top: these empty, item-filled lives we’re leading are not fulfilling. We are depressed and anxious and lonely, drowning in a sea of possessions and concerned about our medical bills and student loan debt and the constantly rising cost of living in contrast to stagnant wages.
Some of these things are outside of our individual control, and all we can do is vote and march and hold corporations accountable.
But we also have a lot of power in how we live our day to day lives. The power to change our culture, to change our lifestyles. We need to do it for the world, as much as for ourselves. To save the world, we need to view ourselves as firmly part of it: as much a part of the natural landscape as the beavers and birds.
Maybe this is a good time for all of us to pause–to reflect on our history as a people, and our future. Who do we want to be?
Currently, we are a people defined by our flimsy, disposable forks, which get lodged in the stomachs of sea creatures until they die and wash up on shore. Of McDonalds and landfills and roadkill. Of fast fashion, which underpays workers and makes clothing practically disposable.
I want to be a person of homemade bread, fresh out of the oven. Of pine boughs and the jewel-like flash of a songbird’s wings through the canopy. Of stews in winter, and salads in summer. Of hand knit hats and scarves and socks. I want to fill my life with people and things that give it meaning.
I get that not everyone is going to be interested in that sort of life. Not everyone wishes they could spend every day in wool sweaters, sipping tea out of a homemade mug. That’s okay.
There are millions of different ways to live a fulfilling, ethical life. I hope that together, we can carve out those myriad of ways. That we can explore what it looks like in cities and small towns, in cabins and in ranch-style houses. Whether you are a lawyer or a janitor or a writer or an ecologist.
It doesn’t have to mean sequestering yourself in a cabin in the woods, without wifi or modern convenience. It doesn’t mean that you can never eat an out of season tomato again, or never order-in Thai (which always comes in those styrofoam containers). Or even that you can never buy an item new.
Instead, I want to find a middle path between consumerism and becoming a hermit that all of us can walk: a fulfilling, thoughtfully lived life that emphasizes relationships with family and friends, an understanding of our place in the world and how we impact the people and places we exist alongside, and the pursuit of quality over convenience.
That might sound straightforward, but sometimes the things we take for granted as the “right” thing to do are really complex. The world is a complicated place, and sometimes, doing the right thing is unclear.
Further, our society is designed to prioritize convenience (at the expense of the rest of the world). Why ride a bike or walk on your own two feet when you can zoom around in a car? Why make your food by hand, when you can get it all wrapped up and ready to go in a plastic bag? It isn’t an easy thing to do, to live in accord with the natural world while simultaneously living in a culture that has long abandoned it.
But for the next year, I’m going to take a stab at it. I want to try to live in a way that incorporates the rhythms of the natural world, eschews consumerist convenience, and examines the assumptions our society makes about the best ways to go about our lives.
I want my life to be defined by something more than the fleeting joy the arrival of an Amazon package brings. Something that can only be found in the streams and creeks of our nation’s waters, in the deepest darkest woods. In family dinners, and the laughter of children, and the satisfaction of making things by hand.
As part of this effort, I’ve created specific goals for the many different arenas of living in accord with the natural world.
- Get places on my own two feet, by bike, or by public transportation whenever possible.
- Grow and gather fruits and veggies as much as possible, and seek out local and organically grown foods. Cook those foods from scratch.
- Learn about Georgia’s ecosystems. Specifically, about the plants and animals that frequent the landscape, and how they interact with each other.
- Spend as much time in the natural world as possible, so that its sights, sounds and smells become familiar and dear.
- Identify two new bird species visually and by song each week. Learn two new plant species in our backyard each week.
- Catch as many sunrises and sunsets as possible.
- Find and catalogue the natural beauty in suburban America through photography and journaling.
- Reduce waste by eliminating single use plastics, composting food waste, repairing whenever possible and donating instead of dumping.
- Buy used items instead of new.
- Create instead of consume whenever possible–give homemade gifts (knits, jams, etc), and create homemade items for our family.