Yesterday as I was chatting with a new friend in Katonah, and we got onto the subject of “How it all fits together.” She grew up in Northern California, and recalls that as a child there was a drought and she laughed as she recalled standing in a rain barrel to wash off after playing outdoors, and that no one ever considered just tossing that water away–it was an era of conscientious conservation. The water would be used for the vegetables and flowers. Why? Because if she used all of the water, then her neighbors might not have enough. It was the automatic modus operandi.
This neighbor-consciousness expanded into global consciousness as she grew up, and now she works tirelessly on the local school district’s Sustainability Committee, doing her best to stay educated on issues of the environment, health, and politics, and then working towards making logical changes locally. But recently she has become acutely aware, as I have I, that there is often a disconnect between people who are working for the environment, and people who are working towards personal well-being: a split that neither of us can quite comprehend.
Painting: Yin and Yang I, John Diamond, on view at Ironwood Gallery through May 30th.
I grew up with a large family, part of the time in upstate NY on a defunct dairy farm. In springtime I’ve always planted peas and spinach. The few times in my life when I couldn’t manage to do this, I would yearn to feel soil between my fingers and to smell the just-coming-back-to-life scents of the earth. Part of my outlook on life was formed back on that farm, and included the knowledge of how to grow food, the knowledge that we all need to stick together during harsh winters, and that you automatically care about your neighbors. My German grandparents ran the vegetable gardens, canned and froze food, and raised our meat. They were practical. When George, my grandfather, was diagnosed with late stage cancer and told he had a very short time to live and would be hospitalized until then, my family pulled together and listened to the most practical advice they were presented with: my uncle Ken had just come back from Kripalu and knew of a revolutionary protocol that could help reverse cancer—Michio Kushi’s macrobiotic diet and health plan. Ken brought in a macrobiotic cook and healer, and I spent 6 months of my ninth year assisting this woman in making poultices, teas and preparing foods that heal, while George grew in strength. It was too late, but George died peacefully, and the day before he died he took a walk with Gram and told her that he loved her, something he hadn’t said in many years. Even though he died, a real healing had taken place.
Back to the peas and spinach and neighbors. This weekend I spent time in my garden checking on plants, and putting new seeds in the ground now that the temperatures are getting warmer: lettuces, beans and herbs. I’ve asked some friends to garden with me and we’re hoping to grow enough vegetables for several households and have enough to share with the neighbors. Growing up and finding out that scientific studies show that fresh, organically grown vegetables are more nutrient dense was fun, but we already knew that. Finding out that growing vegetables without chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers is better for the environment was no suprise, and it is certainly no surprise that it makes better financial sense.
How can we be convinced that the environment is in trouble and needs our help, but not make the decision to stop buying foods that are sprayed with chemicals that are unhealthy for us, or for the environment? How can we say support acupuncture and other natural health philosophy, without being conscientious about reducing our carbon footprint? For that matter, how can we be spiritually aware without making the effort to know our neighbors, to be interested in our neighbors and committed to taking action steps that ensure their safe drinking water?
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