The Earth-Loving, Tree-Hugging Hippies Inside Us

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 it’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.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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28 thoughts on “The Earth-Loving, Tree-Hugging Hippies Inside Us

  1. I so agree with the “earth day should be every day” concept. Not that we have to obsess about the earth every day of our lives, but that being kind to it and more aware of our impact, positive or negative, should be integrated within our every day lives.

  2. This has been my first year gardening. I am trying a few herbs. Your blog is inspiring to a newbie like me. I’ve learned some very helpful things here and I do like the way getting my hands dirty is changing me. Now if I can only get my kitty to stop eating my parsley. :-)

  3. Parlsey eh? I learn a lot about strange feline tastes from all of you. I am fortunate in that my cat is focussed on lemon grass almost exclusively. I hide it from her and bring it out on occasion as a treat.

  4. Happy EarthDay everyone!
    I have to agree with the “Everyday is EarthDay!” directive, because it just makes sense. As far as Gayla’s comment about waiting for the “wheel-shaped space station they promised us for 2001″… Hey, if you really think clearly about it, we’re not “stuck here” on Earth. Earth IS the space station and if we learn how to operate it properly we can ride it across the universe. Sure it will take a million generations, but Earth is designed to take us there. Sorry if I start sounding like a Trekkie, but it is a healthy mindset.

  5. I too love that article Renee. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the difference between cheap and frugal. I think of cheap as not tipping a waitress or buying junk just because it is a “good deal.” I think of frugal as someone who consumes wisely with an eye towards minimizing one’s expenditures and ecological footprint. My earth day goal for this year is to ride my bike more. It saves money AND it is one of the best things I can do for the environment.

  6. To sdd to the list of awesome things about gardening (planting a seed & watching it become a plant, etc): preserving the harvest. Popping a jar of home-made pickles from home-grown cucumbers, garlic and dill in the middle of winter re-ignites, in me, the feeling of what a miracle gardening can be. It also makes me want to live on an acreage and get into larger-scale (for my family, at least) production. How gratifying it would be to not only know how much I can do for myself but also to know how little impact it can make on the environment. Go hippy tree huggers!

  7. I could go on and on and on, so I better just keep this comment short. Awesome post. Completely agree. It’s great if I end up saving the world, but I do what I do because I have to be connected to the earth. It’s too unnatural for me to live otherwise. And I have no shame in admitting I am a tree-hugging hippie too.

  8. On the topic of making organic choices in the garden: I am wondering if soil pH amendments such as powdered sulfur (to lower pH) or crushed limestone (to raise it) are considered organic solutions? If not, what would the organic solution be? (I imagine adding wood ashes or leaves or what not).

  9. Lise: It always depends on who you are talking to and what their approach is because organic gardening is a pretty huge blanket term to describe a wide variety of approaches. However, I think both are generally accepted to be okay. But powdered sulphur can be dangerous since you can breath it in…. the granular stuff is better.

    Yes some kinds of leaves can be a good way to raise acidity. Wood ashes are a source of potassium and can raise pH like limestone. In some areas people use ground oyster shells to raise the pH.

  10. Thank you all for the inspiring words! I usually can’t afford to keep up with all the hyped “green” products on store shelves, but starting a vegetable garden has helped me feel more connected to making earth friendly choices in my day-to-day life.

    The innovative ideas on this website have given me lots of inspiration to keep going! Thank you!

  11. I haven’t read too many Earth Day posts today — maybe 3 or 4 — but after reading this one, I really don’t have to….or want to. So well said, and with your usual wit and perception about human nature — including my own consumer tendencies.

    I really love what you said about gardening helping us become producers. It’s a start in the right direction.

    I’m going to keep this post and when people ask me why I garden or what I get out of all the hard work, I’ll respond by quoting your last 3 paragraphs — “Well, as Gayla said, ‘One of the amazing things….”

  12. Thanks for the answer to my question, Gayla. I really appreciate that you take the time to answer questions on such a popular blog!

    I just had to get some sulfur to lower my pH… much to my surprise, because I live in New England, where soil is usually acidic. So the thought was on my mind…

  13. Wonderfully put. If there is one thing that I will like to leave when my time comes to return to the earth, it is that my child respects, and nurtures in others a love for, this our only Earth.

  14. “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.”

    I thought that was just me. I’m glad there are other people who find cynicism to be a drag as they mature.

  15. I’m glad Jennifer posted the link to the NYT Mag article by Michael Pollan. Gayla’s post (which is excellent and inspiring) brought that item to mind for me, too. When my fella’ and I read that over the weekend, we realized we were way “hippie”-er than we thought. We love growing our own food and teaching our children that the earth provides for us — even if we sometimes (like, in February) need the grocery store to mediate.

    As for losing cynicism with age, I think I finally, here in late adulthood, realized I don’t have all the time in the world. Why waste it paralyzed by the apparent pointlessness of things? Fly into the face of the pointlessness and pretend what you’re doing matters. You may find it actually does!

  16. I live amongst the crazies who believe that Climate Change is a hoax. So its really nice to come here and visit this space and feel supported and renewed in my efforts to make Earth Day Every day.

    I am really thankful this site and its owner and members are here.

  17. In the spirit of acknowledging our planet and our interconnectedness, I always liked the native american saying “We are not inheriting the earth from our parents, we are borrowing it from our children.”
    While every day should be like earth day, I am glad there’s a day that pushes the issue forward where the less hippie-types must see it. Then again, I was born and raised a leftist treehugging(literally) hippie. Yes, my mom really taught me to wrap my arms around a tree and squeeze…

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