my environmentalist awakening, or lack thereof

Today is Earth Day. Being a big, tree-hugging dork, I am wearing a blue dress and a green sweater, the colors of Mother Earth.  (I’m really not kidding about my level of dorkitude.)  Today, the entire blogosphere is abuzz with tales of what finally made people open their eyes to the realities of climate change and the need to take better care of our environment.  And truly, I could write a really handy post about how I discovered No Impact Man a few years ago and set out on a course to live more lightly on the planet, and be mostly telling the truth.  But the real story is, I grew up doing this stuff, and I was basically just returning to a way of living I grew up on.  I was basically raised an environmentalist. I’m not talking about growing up watching Captain Planet, either, although I admit, I did love that show and may have giggled about how much my high school class ring made me feel like a Planeteer.

No, the truth is, I was raised doing the kind of stuff that’s now very trendy, as all three of my parents (dad, mother, stepmom) are basically hippies. To start with, my dad is a former high school science teacher turned physician, so all of creation was a wonderous classroom to him. We pulled over on the side of the road to look at interesting sedimentary rock formations or to learn about cotton plants.  We were dragged into the yard in the middle of the night to observe planets, constellations, and meteor showers.  We had a freezer full of interesting bird specimens kept in ziplock baggies, for goodness sakes. And we even had a pet tarantula.  Meanwhile, my mother is a huge outdoorswoman, teaching canoe and kayak lessons in her free time, enjoying mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, and camping.  By the time I reached puberty, I’d kayaked most of the Buffalo River and I knew how to pitch a tent and cook over a campfire.  Obviously a world as interesting as the one my parents taught me to explore and enjoy is worth taking care of.

Also, all three of my parents are huge into gardening. My dad has a Master’s in botany, my stepmom studied bryology, which you may or may not know is the study of moss, and my mother is just a really well-trained self-taught gardener. I grew up eating home grown organic veggies, working in the garden begrudgingly alongside my sister, eating strawberries straight off the plants while pulling weeds and listening to Dad wax poetic about the wonders of plant life.  We also composted all of our food scraps and yard clippings, which were tilled back into the soil that nourished our food.  I truthfully never tasted a frozen vegetable until college, at which point I called home and complained about how horrible the food was. Home canning, for which my stepmom won many a prize at the fair, I was used to, flash frozen commercial green beans, not so much.  Apparently I was into Slow Food since before it had a name or anyone had ever heard of Michael Pollan.  We even had our own chickens in the yard!

And on top of all that, my beloved stepmom is possibly the world’s cheapest person.  She’s big on the “reuse” portion of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” because reusing things saves money. No lie: when, as a high school student, I declared that lunchboxes were uncool and I wanted to take my lunch in a brown paper bag like everyone else, she told me that I was allowed to use one bag per week, but no more, because they cost money and throwing away a perfectly good bag was wasteful.  She’s also known to wash out and reuse ziplock bags (but not the ones the above-mentioned dead birds are frozen in). And she’s been a big fan of reusable drinking bottles from way back, because they’re so much cheaper than buying bottled water.

So, when you look at the way I was raised, it’s no wonder I grew up to be such a tree-hugger.  I may eat local/organic, take reusable bags to the store, ride public transit, use eco-friendly cleaning and personal care products, recycle, garden, use a Diva Cup, tote a reusable water bottle, bake my own bread, bike to the grocery store, and compost– but I’m basically just living the way that I was raised.  And I can only hope that one day I might raise some little environmentalists of my own.  Happy Earth Day!

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