This whole Earth Day thing has me a bit puzzled. Come to think of it most [Insert Cause Here] Days are oddly perplexing. Maybe it’s just human nature to take things for granted, but I’ve never been able to wrap my head around the fact that we have to set aside a special day once a year to recognize the critical importance of the very thing that sustains our lives. I’m still waiting for that wheel-shaped space station they promised us by the year 2000. Until then we’re kind of stuck here.
Pausing to reflect upon and evaluate the importance of the Earth in our lives seems a little bit ludicrous, about as crazy as believing that climate change is a hoax made up by the Left. Given that a certain percentage of people really believe that, I suppose I’ve already answered my own question as to why we need to have days like this. A certain percentage of us just don’t get it, and maybe the rest of us need to be reminded now and again amidst the too-little-too-late mantras of why we need to keep trying.
I’ve always been a bit of a cynical optimist. But as I get older I have begun to drop some of the cynicism moving closer to a hopeful optimism — the sarcasm however is still firmly embedded. While I am one of those, “Everyday SHOULD be Earth Day” people I don’t want to cynically spit on the opportunity to make even small differences when the possibility to make them exists. For the most part I do think we are done for but I also don’t think we should just roll over and give up, making as many selfish choices as we can before the apocalypse comes. Today, the Earth! Tomorrow, awesome shoes!
So this year I decided that I would publicly recognize Earth Day and talk about the positive impact I think gardening as an activity can have on us and the environment. It’s a tricky topic to address because gardening has a very strong potential to go either way. Gardening can and has been bad for the environment. It would be naive to ignore that fact. When I think of the horrible acts committed in gardens over the years… it’s a little bit scary. And I’m not just talking about the big hats.
But on the other hand gardening doesn’t have to be an environmentally dangerous act. The act of growing plants holds within it the potential to be a powerfully positive, active pursuit that can make a difference in you even if it doesn’t make a difference to the environment. Gardening, especially growing food, transforms us into producers — something we desperately need in our passive consumer culture where we have become an audience watching life rather than producers making life. Producing inevitably leads us to learn new things and make connections. Growing food provides a connection to and an understanding of where our food comes from. Firsthand experience with what food looks like when it comes out of the ground, with all of itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s shapes, flaws, beauty, and flavor, transforms our expectations. It turns us into educated, active consumers despite ourselves.
Like many beginners, when the gardening bug hit I did not begin with the intention of growing organically. Most of the positive choices I made, whether to avoid using pesticides or plant a native plant were made passively — I didn’t want to touch the chemical and I thought the flowers were pretty. How I made my choices as a gardener were a reflection of the passive choices I made in other areas of my life; using Mr. Clean to wash the floor because everybody else did, and eating unhealthy foods because that’s just how I was raised.
One of the amazing things about the act of gardening is that it inspires a sense of wonder and reconnects our brains to the small discoveries that brought so much joy in childhood. All of those tiny yet wonderful things we adults are too sophisticated or mature to acknowledge are rediscovered in a pot of basil. Gardening reconnected me to the pleasure in getting my hands dirty; brought up the childhood surprise in finding a worm poking its head up through the soil; rekindled the magic in putting a seed in a cup and watching it sprout and the pride in knowing I was a part of making that happen. And then over time I noticed other things too. I noticed how the weather changes from year to year. I saw insects and other living things I hadn’t noticed in years, if not for the very first time. And in seeing I began to realize how important those living things are. I started to see them as a necessity instead of a nuisance. I started to see that all of this would still be here even when I wasn’t. And that realization developed into a sense of responsibility for and to it. Gardening draws us closer to recognizing that we have a shared, collective stewardship to our surroundings that reaches beyond the here and now.
Gardening forced me to pay attention. Gardening brought the earth-loving, tree-hugging hippie that was shut inside me, out. Gardening created connections that I couldn’t ignore, inspiring me to make active choices rather that passive ones.
And so I figure, if gardening could do all that for me, then surely it has the potential to do that for other people too. One small act that creates a domino effect that brings out the earth-loving, tree-hugging hippies inside all of us.