And a little child shall lead them

On my way to Havurah Shalom this morning for the Shavuot service, I heard this story on NPR’s Morning Edition about the Kids Science Challenge — a nationwide competition funded by the National Science Foundation to which more than 700 elementary school students submitted questions and ideas.

What floored me was the independent study conducted by an 8-year-old third-grader named Claire who took more than 100 water samples from five grass fields and five turf fields to study the difference in water run-off. She got the idea from playing soccer on the different surfaces and noticing that water on turf fields didn’t look quite right.

Even the NPR reporter seemed impressed by her work, and commented that the MacArthur Foundation should be paying attention.

For a good while now, I’d been concerned about increasingly sedentary kids who simply aren’t spending enough time outside, and who consequently aren’t bonding with the natural world. I was worried that we were breeding an entire generation of young people who would feel more comfortable in cubicles beneath fluorescent lighting and surrounded by off-gassing plastics than they would out in the woods, in the desert or on top of a mountain.

After listening to this student describe her science project, I’m not so worried anymore. Sure, we’re still dealing with escalating obesity rates in this country — particularly in children — but perhaps the near-saturation of climate change stories and concerns in the media is managing to seep through the haze of video games and other escapist entertainment to inspire and challenge young minds like Claire’s.

Perhaps the author of Isaiah 11:6 — “… and a little child shall lead them” — was prophesying about a religious messianic age, but it’s the quote that first sprung to my mind when thinking about Claire’s science project. I’m hoping there are many more like her in her generation, and that they will continue to push for environmental knowledge and solutions as they grow.

Shavuot

Shavuot — celebrated this year from sundown on May 28th to sundown on May 30th — marks the receiving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai by the Israelites.

But Shavuot is also a celebration of the wheat harvest at the end of the seven-week harvest of grains. Like many agricultural holidays, Shavuot offers the opportunity to connect with and appreciate our natural environment.

Shavuot may well be the greenest holiday on the Jewish calendar.

I’m a big fan of farmers markets, and Shavuot is a great time to head to your local market. But this is also a good time to visit area farms and dairies, to watch the harvest come in or even participate in some u-pick activities yourself.

It’s customary to decorate homes and temples with flowers and green plants for Shavuot, and with so much in full bloom at this time of year, it’s difficult not to be inspired by roses, rhododendrons, dogwoods and other plants and trees growing wild and in carefully planned gardens.

I use this as a reminder to pay extra attention to my three houseplants and to spend additional time tending my small garden, but it also makes me think of the many spring and early summer festivals across many religious traditions that celebrate the renewed promise of the Earth. The darkness of winter is long behind us now, and we celebrate the planet’s burgeoning life with dancing, maypoles, songs, bike rides, mountain hikes and all manner of festivities as we look forward to a good harvest.

For a round-up of activities and ideas for a green Shavuot, visit Shavuot Eco Activities (For When the Cheese Is All Eaten Up).

Start your day off green: used coffee grounds

I just found this Planet Green article about what to do with your used coffee grounds.

Admittedly, I’m not a coffee drinker; I never did develop a taste for the stuff. But I know a lot of people who swear by a good cup — or two — of joe in the morning. I’ve added coffee (the beverage, not the grounds) to my shampoo before, but didn’t know the grounds themselves can be used for conditioning. Also, I’ve always loved the aroma of coffee — just not the taste — but hadn’t thought of using coffee grounds as a natural deodorizer.

And don’t forget that composting worms love coffee grounds!

Now, who has ideas for used tea bags?

The environment and the Law of Return

I had been thinking of offering a list today of my favorite “green” folks on Twitter, until I got this message from Astrology.com’s GreenScope:

The law of karma gets restated in a hundred different ways. In environmental terms, it’s simple: whatever you do will literally come back to you. So look for cleaning products that can go safely into the water supply system. Baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice work on almost anything and are completely biodegradable.

I’d written previously about green cleaning products — and yes, baking soda, white vinegar and lemon juice make for some excellent “mean green clean.” Apart from the elimination of toxic chemicals from your home environment (commercial cleaners are full of the stuff) and the fact that make-at-home cleaners are also friendlier to your wallet, it’s absolutely true that homemade green cleaning products are easier on our landfills and water treatment centers.

Instant karma’s gonna get you.
—John Lennon

We do reap what we sow. The impact of our chemically-dependent — for lack of a better term — lifestyles is showing up in our waterways and fish populations, in everything from algae blooms to reduced fertility rates. And I don’t have a comprehensive list of all of the chemicals and other materials that waste water treatment facilities are able to filter out, but I don’t imagine they’re able to scrub the water of absolutely everything.

In Wicca and other branches of Neo-Paganism, the Law of Three states that whatever you send out into the world will come back to you three-fold. This admonition is aimed against the practice of questionable spells — usually curses and the like — but can also be effectively applied to day-to-day living.

Do I want to treat the Earth with respect, and then have this same consideration returned to me three-fold? Yes, please. Do I want to trash the planet and then have three times that level of destruction visited upon me? Not so much, no.

There’s a split in the scientific community over whether global warming is a reality — which I don’t understand. There’s also a split amongst those who recognize that climate change is indeed happening, between those who attribute environmental impact to human beings and those who believe it’s a natural, cyclical phenomenon.

I’m in the “yes, climate change is real, and humans have contributed to it,” camp. And I believe we are dealing now with the consequences of the quick rise of industry and technology from generations past (alongside rampant consumption of natural resources) with no heed given to environmental impact — and that future generations will continue to deal with those problems as well as with whatever additional damage we do today. The results of the solutions that we come up with now may not really be felt until after our lifetimes, but that’s the environmental legacy we leave for those who come after us.

Karma can be a bitch, but it can also be a blessing. You get back from it what you put into it. We just have to figure out what kind of environmental return we want to have visited — perhaps even three-fold — upon our descendants.

Courage and activism

Confrontation is not one of my strong suits. Some people are really good at this — tackling problematic people head-on with confidence and grace. I’ve usually been more nervous about it, and haven’t taken always taken action even when I wanted to or knew that I should.

About ten years ago, I was at a stop light in Richmond, Virginia, when I saw the driver in the car ahead of me toss a cigarette out her window onto the pavement. I’m not sure what spurred me to action that day, but before I knew it, I was out of my car. I strode forward, picked up the discarded cigarette and handed it back to the driver.

“Here,” I said calmly. “I think you dropped this.”

That might sound silly, but I like to give people the benefit of the doubt — and I like to give people a graceful way out. Unfortunately, this lady didn’t take it. As soon as my back was turned, she tossed the cigarette out the window again.

So, again, I walked up to her car window, bent down to pick up the cigarette and handed it back to her. The driver looked up at me, confused.

“I live here, too,” I said to her. “This is littering. Knock it off.”

When I got back to my car, my heart was pounding in my chest. I was both amazed that I’d actually done something rather than sitting in my car watching yet another person litter, and I was horrified that perhaps I’d handled it wrong or embarrassed someone. (I was raised in the South. I’m always worried about what other people think and feel.)

But I also knew that other drivers and passengers at the same intersection had witnessed what had happened. They’d seen someone take action rather than ignoring the situation, like we all usually do. That made me feel a lot better.

When I told a few friends about this, however, reactions were mixed. Most were proud of me, but at least two people pointed out that my actions could have gotten me shot. There are a lot of guns in Virginia.

I had another such opportunity this morning — which had me standing in the path of a speeding car that was tearing through my quiet neighborhood, running stop signs, and which left me with that same feeling of pride at having done the right thing — and dread, because even though I look graceful under fire, I certainly don’t feel it.

In other words, I’m historically not much of an activist. I don’t have the same courage that inspires the people on those Greenpeace boats putting themselves between whaling ships and their prey. I’ve never come anywhere close to chaining myself to an old growth tree and standing in the way of bulldozers — and not just because I don’t hear about these protests until after the fact.

My convictions give me words, and that’s one reason I keep writing and blogging about sustainability. It’s why I keep speaking out against intolerance, even if from the relative safety of my desk rather than out in the streets.

But there are other kinds of activism, that don’t involve putting oneself in physical danger or in direct confrontation with heavy machinery or harpoons. There are trail building parties to restore hiking paths and protect native vegetation. There are river clean up efforts that have volunteers floating downstream in rafts and kayaks to collect litter — I’ve done that one; it’s hard work, but it’s a lot of fun. There are bicycle parades to promote alternative transportation and reduced emissions. And much more.

So the next time I’m feeling powerless, I’ll just remember the many green volunteer opportunities waiting right outside my door. Because, frankly, standing in front of a speeding car and nearly getting myself and my dog run over is not something I want to do every day.

Bloom where you are planted: Are you a locavore?

I heard a new term this morning: “locavore.” This is someone who eats food that is produced/grown locally. The concept isn’t new, but I’d not realized there was now a “locavore movement” named for it.

Apparently, locavore was the New Oxford American Dictionary’s “word of the year” in 2007.

I am still trying to track down the source of “Bloom where you are planted” — a quote that seems particularly fitting for the locavore movement. People assume this is in the Bible — and the sentiment certainly is there — but I’ve yet to find this quote. Others claim this is from an Afghan proverb, or that the quote first appeared in a popular song.

Regardless of this its origin, I have to admit that I used to cringe when I read or heard this quote. Growing up, I took it to mean that you were stuck with your circumstances, so you might as well stop reaching for something better or trying to improve your situation. I have some ideas on why I took this aphorism to be antithetical to ambition in those days, but only recently have I come to equate it with other, more action-inspiring sayings like “Think globally, act locally” and one of my favorite quotes from Arthur Ashe:

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

This perfectly fits the philosophy of being a locavore.

Some locavores will designate a radius — say 50 or 100 miles — beyond which they will not purchase foods. If you’re a locavore and you’re craving asparagus but they’re out of season in your area and the only ones available have been imported from another country, too bad. But being a locavore isn’t so much about learning to do without as it is learning to do more with what’s immediately available.

So what do locavores do? Locavores frequent their community farmers markets for the freshest, most sustainably grown produce around. When you shop at the farmers market, you can meet and get to know your area farmers and ranchers — which helps build the local economy and means you know exactly where your food is coming from.

Locavores might sign up for weekly produce delivery from a particular farm or community supported agriculture group, like Organics to You in Portland, Oregon. These subscription services bring fresh produce right to your door on a weekly basis. If you’re interested in signing up but don’t think you’ll be able to consume all the food each week, you can learn how to preserve/can produce to enjoy year-round — even when those fruits and vegetables aren’t in season — or you can share a subscription with neighbors or co-workers.

Want to know and do more?

You can read Jennifer Maiser’s “Ten Steps to Becoming a Locavore.” And you can ponder Arthur Ashe’s words of wisdom. What’s available to you locally? What resources can you take advantage of? What can you do — big or small — to be a more conscious and active part of your local food chain?

You could say the locavore movement has a solid handle on what it means to “bloom where you are planted.” These are the folks who are saying “Yes!” to local resources and who are helping their communities thrive.

Green soul guide search terms

Every so often, I’ll take a look at the statistics for The Green Soul Guide. According to WordPress, the top search terms that brought people to this site yesterday were:

  • the dairy farmers guide to the universe
  • religious conversion, judaism, buddhism
  • meditation rocks
  • green kabbalah
  • deep green soul

I’ve not previously paid much attention to Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but maybe I should start. I’m really curious now about the dairy farmers guide to the universe….