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A tick in the Earth's hair

This is Earth Day weekend. Yesterday I gathered nettles and garlic mustard to eat.  I will do my laundry tomorrow because it is raining today, and I want to hang clothes out to dry. These are Earth Day kinds of things to do. But every day is Earth Day in the woods where I live. How can it not be? I sometimes look up at the tall trees and feel like I am nestled in the Earth’s hair. Think about that analogy, however, and you start feeling like a louse. Or a tick. Yes, a tick. This house, sitting here in its little cleared space, perhaps feels to Gaia like a fat tick that won’t let go. How annoying is that!

In any case, it’s a reminder to be as kind and respectful to our hostess as we can, given that we are parasites and utterly dependent on her.

I often feel like a fraudulent environmentalist, however, even though it is my profession. Last Sunday we encountered one of our younger friends who is a real environmentalist. He has hiked the Appalachian Trail. He has developed organic gardens. He has gotten a graduate degree in sustainable agriculture. He is looking for a place to till his own soil and live well but lightly on the land. He is fascinated by farming with horses. He is dedicated, persistent, and propelled by idealism and conviction. Gaia needs more 30-somethings like Jon.

Oddly, Jon seems to admire my husband and me, consider us mentors. I think it’s because I told him that I once spent a weekend with Wendell Berry, the poet-essayist elder of all things sustainable. On Berry’s Kentucky farm. Talking around his kitchen table. With half a dozen other people who were real environmentalists.

I’m not sure what I think a real environmentalist is or should be, just that it’s not my husband and me. We’re not exactly living off the grid out here in the woods. We have to drive everywhere. Vic still drives to Chicago to work in the middle of every week. Working for an environmental organization is not a be-all and end-all calling for me. I have many interests and could work in another profession.

Who we are is ordinary middle-class people who have come gradually to consciousness about, and love for, Mother Earth. Vic would not call himself an environmentalist but he reads incessantly about climate change—and has since the 1980s. I hesitate to call myself an environmentalist but I have worked for an environmental organization for 12 years because I love the people in this little band (real environmentalists) and what they are doing, and because they really put my writing and editing skills to good use. I admire them, like Jon admires me. I have learned from them and I keep learning. If I am an environmentalist now, I give them all the credit.

And I do love the Earth—I have since I was a child growing up on the farm. And I love foraging in her “hair” for wild edibles and, in the process, grooming the invasive plants off her scalp. I love the wildflowers that spring up every year far more than I love flowers I plant myself. I love these trees that surround me, indulging my presence.

It’s all about love, justice, and truth, which I am passionate about. Perhaps Gaia needs more people like us, as well as like Jon. I believe there are many more people like us than there were even a decade ago, and that there will be many more among our children and grandchildren. People who love the Earth and try to do well by her without thinking twice about it.