Monday, October 8, 2012

Being Green

This dashing devil is my great-Uncle Gilbert Arts. This pick-up might well have been one he and his brothers kept around for parts.

On the ranch where my grandmother's family settled in the early 1920s, there were several storage sheds near the barnyard where her brothers parked old tractors and pick-ups. To the untrained eye the vehicles were no good to anyone or anything. Out to vehicle pasture.

It was true the guys couldn't bear to throw out anything. After all, they'd lost both parents when they were teenagers during the Depression. It was hard enough scraping enough money together to buy clothes and pay taxes on the place, never mind buying new equipment. They were reducing, recycling and reusing long before it became a slogan. Keeping those old clunkers around served a purpose--they scavenged them for parts. Repair, and re-repair. What made them successful ranchers was their ability to do a lot of things well, maintenance being primary. Their dad had taught them how to work, how things worked and how to fix stuff when it stopped working.

Fifty years later, two of the brothers, Gilbert and Ted, had long since left the ranch. Good old habits die hard. The instinct to fix stuff was just as strong. They went around picking up old lawn mowers people had never tried to fix. They'd haul them back to Gilbert's shop for reconditioning, and they'd sell them or give them away. They'd picked up a cold case from a meat shop that had closed, and Gilbert set about turning it into a greenhouse.

I didn't inherit their mechanical genius, but I did inherit their conservation instincts. I have reinterpreted the instinct to repair, and repair again, as using only what I need.

In August my family and I attended a rally for President Obama at the University of Colorado. As we waited for him to arrive, I struck up a conversation with two students. They were lovely young women whose enthusiasm about their futures in the health care field inspired me and gave me hope.

"I only wish we were leaving things in better shape for you," I said, my eyes filling with tears.

They touched my arm and said, "It's OK. You're doing the best you could."

Maybe I have done the best I could. But it's not OK, and it's certainly not good enough for them, and for my own sons, and all the other young people who are inheriting this scarred, ravaged planet.

Next week I'm attending an Environmental Justice Training sponsored by my denomination, the United Church of Christ. Here's hoping that goodwill and love, though perhaps not enough, is at least something.

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