Saturday, June 28, 2008
FLORA WAS NO FLORODORA GIRL
The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (6/20/08)
Meine Überfrau's grandmother, Flora Ickes, was a Kentuckian and frontierswoman who once blew the head off a rattlesnake slithering into her kitchen. She grabbed the family shotgun from the kitchen wall and blazed away. Thrifty, as were frontier folk, she saved a roll of short lead pencils with a note attached, "Too short to use." She'd been raised on a farm where little, if anything, was ever thrown away under the rubric, "You just might be able to use that someday." Someday, she believed, someone might find a use for lead pencils too short to use. She practiced sustainability before anyone ever heard the word.
She pumped water out of the cistern, stored perishables in her spring house, and didn't much cotton to things "boughten." She also had a large pile of kitchen scraps and yard clippings in her yard a far piece from the house. Since the word "compost" hadn't been invented, she composted without knowing it. As a result, her vegetable and flower garden flourished with peonies the size of sunflowers. On her back stoop, she fed hoboes dinner topped off with a bottle of Dad's Old-Fashioned Root Beer. Small and thin, she must've weighed about 90 lbs dripping wet. She bore and reared seven children. She probably would've paid no mind to flibbertijibbets with cell phones glued to their ears practicing "sustainability" by buying expensive hybrid cars, telling them "to get'emselves a horse." So Gretchen comes by her "onriness" with a genetic honesty.
Sustainability isn't new. It's been rediscovered. Farmers have been practicing it for years as with people who work the soil, including gardeners. It begins by saving table scraps and yard clippings. In short, give that disposal a rest and save a plumber's visit and bill. If a reader isn't a gardener, the next best thing is to give those scraps, coffee grounds, and clippings to a gardener who does compost, but be sure to chop them into small pieces. They're lots of composting gardeners around town.
"Sustainability" and "xeriscape" are pursed-lipped words. They're bleak, sounding too minimalist to catch the mind's fancy, but we're stuck with them. The "xeri" is xeriscape doesn't mean zero, but rather it comes from the Greek word "xeros" meaning dry, dried up, withered, or paralyzed. The x is pronounced as "ks," as in Alexander, and the e as in "hey." So xeriscape means a dry, withered landscape which doesn't do much to catch the mind's fancy either. Ironically, a host of plants native and adaptable to the southwest are colorful. What sets them apart isn't that they're withered but that they're "water efficient." They take water up and store it more efficiently than plants from wetter climes. So how about a water efficient landscape rather than dry landscape?
As for sustainability, it’s a life boat word, sounding too much like endurance, running in place, just keeping up, treadmill to oblivion. The real purpose of sustainability is renewal, as in not using up the earth's resources, but rather in renewing them. So how about renewability or even transformative?
Renewing is more than spouting theory and sporting bumper stickers. It's a matter of action, like kitchen scraps and growing gardens. Flower gardens add beauty. Vegetable gardens add health and taste and cut down on the use of oil. Home-grown vegetables and fruits taste better, cost less, and use less energy than the "boughten" kind. If people don't garden now, and they're able, it's time to hop to it.
The reason is simple. Flora knew she lived in a finite universe without endless resources, her house, the farm, and the general store for those few "boughten" items. So do we, only larger, but nonetheless finite. We've been living like "legacy kids," spending our inheritance as though there were no end to our resources. There is an end, as we are finding in fossil fuels, so it's time to renew.
My great aunt Marie Aslakson was, also, a daughter of the frontier, her father, Bjørn, a Norwegian immigrant sod buster who volunteered for Mr. Lincoln's Army in the 7th Minnesota Volunteers. When I left shards of spinach on my plate, Auntie's admonition still rings true, "Waste not, want not."
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2008