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Monday, February 01, 2010

Got that covered

No more coffee? Well, that's it, then. Risa dresses for farm work and shoves herself out the door.

The morning's clouds, for once, haven't chosen to present that soppy and stolidly grey united front they've held for the last six weeks. Wisps of fog retreat to left and right, revealing the nearest star in all its rosy glory, and the grasses beam their pleasure through an assortment of small diamonds.

She lets out the chickens, geese and Khaki Campbells. She slips through the second gate and releases the Anconas. Everyone has something to say about this, but only to one another. There are unsuspecting slugs, snails and and bits of rolled corn to be caught before they escape the morning light. They're on it.

Risa pops into the potting shed. Already the air here is warming up as the sun pours over the herringbone-patterned bricks of the floor. She mists the peas, chard, kale, lettuce, favas, and beets in their flats by the south window. So far, so good -- in recent years, mice have been attacking the starts, but she's been working at clearing out the competition. Here the starts get more daylight than they can by the dining room window, and it's been so warm.

The English bluebells are up, four inches, and the daffodils twice that high. The garlic came up in December and is now practically full grown. The nectarines and the pussy willows have gone to bud break, apples and pears threaten the same, the lawn grasses stand in need of a haircut. Redwing blackbirds, who appear in April, have selected January this year, and a mosquito is hovering solicitously by Risa's right ear.

When she opens the earth with a spading fork, the soil exhales the unmistakable chocolatey aroma of spring. It's going to become increasingly difficult to rely on the calendars in her rapidly dating garden books.

Why do you do all this? a friend has asked. You're retired; you could be sitting in your favorite restaurant down at the Cape, watching the dories launch into the surf. You can afford everything you want, without all this bother. You could be shopping!

She tries to explain that the Hundred Mile Diet runs best on food grown within a Hundred Feet; about food miles, energy expenditure, energy efficiency, soil health, and the state of the world, but the friend is ready with reasonable objections: there are too many of us anyway, there will be more cars, not less, we've only burned half the oil and coal and will surely burn the other half, and if The End of the World As We Know It were to arrive, she, an elderly supernumerary, would be among the first to be surplused, and not, as she seems to be angling to be, hired as some sort of professional organic homesteading crone.

Yah, yah, she responds; I get all that. But, you know, there was this Greek philosopher who went down to the fair, and there they had booths selling every possible sort of geegaw: ribbons, hats, funny salt shakers, ankle bells, slaves, bracelets, sandals in twelve colors, i-Pads, and X-boxes. And smiled broadly and said, "Ah! I am truly fortunate! how many things there are in this world of which I have no need."

It seems glib, but there you have it: Risa's discovered an old truth: cultivate any habit and it will grow. A habit of sustainability and simplicity can be an enthusiasm, a hobby, then a lifestyle, and finally a deep and abiding pleasure, without her ever having to become a crabbed and peevish crusader, and it doesn't matter that there are contradictions, or that true sustainability is, for her, where she is and as she is, but a receding and unattainable horizon. If one of the things that matters is that she is enjoying her time here, well, she's got that covered. And the more she does for herself, the less she must use slaves -- which is what every kind of overconsumption entails.

She returns to the house, slips out of her sandals, puts up her straw hat and sunglasses, and begins slicing and dicing good things by the north window in the kitchen.

Tomorrow it will be February.


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