Monday, January 19, 2009

"Waste Not, Want Not"

My mama always said that, "waste not, want not." Anytime I wanted to throw something away, or not finish my supper, "waste not, want not." I always knew what it meant, instinctively, but it wasn't until I grew up that I thought to contemplate the breakdown of the wording. I understand it now as such: if you don't live wastefully, you won't fall upon times of want.

In this day and age, we waste waste waste every day. Food comes in packaging. [Plastic] toys that kids grow tired of in 2 weeks come in packaging. Clothes come in packaging, with tags, and then in bags. We come home and throw it away. In the immortal words of Julia Butterfly Hill, "we say we are 'going to throw something away.' Where is 'away?' There is no such thing."

I spent the afternoon of today's first "National Day of Service" walking up my neighborhood alleyways and waterways clearing up trash and recycling that had somehow found a wayward home in the nooks of trees and bushes. Most of it was fairly innocuous, and I sang as I picked up windblown bits of newspaper and other randomness. But now and again, something would really grab me - like the unbundled stacks of extra trash next to the bins that will be sure to fly away in tonight's winds... Or the dozens of bottlecaps and cigarette butts behind one particular cottage... And then there was the creek. Down by 9th Street, here in Boulder, there's an irrigation fork of the creek that parallels the street. And it's just plum full of junk. I entered it unsure how I would even begin to fit everything in my little plastic bag (I started with two, but one got ripped on a bush, so now I would be hand-sorting the trash from the recycling...). I crammed the little bag as full as can be until I came to the end, where a grate was not doing such a good job of keeping trash from continuing through it... I couldn't get thru the grate to pick up the piles of trash beyond, but I could use the big box that had gotten trapped on this side to put all the extra junk into!

So here I was, now strolling along lugging a huge, half-broken box of junk... Fortunately nearby I see some dumpsters. I load all the goods into one of them and ...sigh... note the piles of unbound recycling piled next to the bins. Is this apartment living?? Is it that living in an "apartment" keeps us apart from each other and the natural world so well that we forget our basic respect for the space beyond our little walls, for the neighbors whose yards will receive our windblown trash, and for the waterways and places of beauty that will be defiled by our lazy neglect? Sigh.

I continue on my way, back into the alleyways and towards the more single-family residential areas. The onslaught of trash lessens as I near home, and ironically I find one of my own ribbons (a silver one that had been hanging on the grapevines as birdproofing) a few houses downwind from mine. Indeed, none of us, perhaps, are immune to some bit of negligence...

Still, I am left remembering that we don't all live with the motto "waste not, want not." So many of us have more than enough - perhaps even taking it for granted - that we can afford to unthinkingly let it go to waste. Or can we? Are we possibly in desperate environmental straits? Is it now or never? Whether or no this is the case (likely it is!), I do often pray that we humans take more time to slow down and honor our connection with the cycles and the abundance of the earth. For if we hope to be sustained here on her sacred ground, we must do our part to return the favor.

To this end, I dearly hope that we take this idea of a "Day of Service" into our everyday lives - finding ways to better our communities and families every day - and finding a regular rhythm of service that we can offer to each other and the Earth.

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