August 25, 2011

No Need to ‘Go Green’ – Part 2

(I wrote this series, because, for years, people have asked me how I got so ‘green.’ Hopefully this will provide some insight and give you ideas about how to live simply and appreciate the natural world of which you are a part. Read Part 1, The 50s, 60s & 70s.)

The 80s – New Hampshire

Even though I’d settled into a simple way of life by now, the 80s had a huge effect on me. I was still young, impressionable, inquisitive and seeking my place in the world.

I left New York and moved back to New Hampshire, where going to the dump was a righteous act of frugality.

Recycling was mandatory – there were bins for aluminum, steel and paper, a brush pile for burnables, an area for toxic things, such as paint, that got transported elsewhere, and a chute for other household trash in a garbage bag. Our dump-meister watched us very carefully, and if he heard glass go down the chute, he’d chew you out and threaten to ban you from the dump! He couldn’t, of course, but it gave him some sort of power, I guess.

We were also allowed to ‘pick the dump’ – we could scrounge and scavenge whatever we could bring home. Saturday mornings, people would convene at the dump with pick-up trucks, and wait with coffee and chatter. I knew a man who remodeled his garage into a shop with scrap lumber! I, myself, rescued two barn doors, the kind that slide open on tracks, that were sitting on the burnables pile.

Timberland was based in the mill in Newmarket back then, and we’d find hundreds of pairs of boots at a time. We’d bring them home and distribute them. Almost everyone I knew wore Timberland seconds.

It was a symbiotic relationship, dump goers and dump pickers.

I went back to college to study horticulture, and more important than diving deeper into organic gardening, I learned about pesticides and how disgusting they are.

Negative factoids that changed my life:

> 62 different pesticides are allowed on lettuce!
> Growing (for more things that just lettuce) begins with a pre-emergent herbicide designed to kill off all sprouts, except the lettuce, so it has free reign to grow without competition.
> Seed is treated with purple or turquoise fungicides to prevent rot.
> Farmers spray their fields weekly as an ‘insurance program,’ whether or not they have pests.
> On a hot summer day, my German Shepherd, Germaine, laid in a cool puddle in the barn of a farm I worked on. It turned out to be a spill from a 55 gallon drum of undiluted chemicals from Dow. Over the next four years, she battled some unknown auto-immune disease that acted like cancer, but did not respond to cancer treatments. I kept telling the vet at Angell Memorial Hospital in Boston that she’d laid in this puddle of pesticides, but he did not think it was related. I sure did! After uncontrollable bleeding, low platelet counts and finally irreversible kidney damage, I had to put her down. She was only 8.

Positive factoids that changed my life:

> Silent Spring by Rachel Carson “Released in 1962, offered the first shattering look at widespread ecological degradation… focused on the poisons from insecticides, weed killers, and other common products.” (From Amazon)
> Mulch reduces the need for watering and weeding.
> Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is not an organic gardening method, but plants are examined for pests before determining how to eradicate them. Toxic chemicals are a drastic last measure.
> I studied ecology and weather, the major players in the natural world.
> I was turned on to solar energy and designed and built a passive solar home.

By the time I finished the two year program in horticulture, I was more aware of the world around me. I started backpacking, hiking and camping every chance I got just to get out and study it some more. My first backpack trip was four days long, and I was quick to realize the impact of carrying everything we needed on our backs. Everything! I also learned you need very little water for washing of self and dishes. Those were lessons in simplicity that came down the mountain with me.

The winter of 1986-87 dropped a foot of snow every other day and drove me out of New Hampshire. I had been hating winter for many years, and that one was a catalyst. I was depressed when spring came after battling the snow, then it rained for nine days, and the river I lived on was in the basement of my brand new home. When the power went out for four days, I was pushed beyond my boundaries. A gift of $500 from a friend motivated me to rent out my house, and I hit the road in June.

Stay tuned for Part 3, The 80s – Simplified Through Travel.

Read more about IPM.

My alma mater, University of NH, Thompson School of Applied Science

Adapted from the original on my blog, desert verde.

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