What happened to my green?

Remember in 2007 or so, when being environmentally-conscious finally came into style? I’d been drawn to eco-conscious living for some time by then, and having it become trendy was a dream come true. Finally, there were products on the market that could fill functions of which I had long had need. And to top it off, it was just around this time that I moved in with a man who I thought I would marry. I had dreams of transitioning to a homestead with chickens in the backyard, a compost toilet in the bathroom and cloth diapers in the nursery.

Former Boyfriend was actually fairly open-minded to all my ideas. Sure, we could split the bill for a CSA share and go pick it up at the farmer’s market every week. Sure, we could build a garden in the backyard and grow vegetables. Sure, we could buy a worm bin and keep it in the kitchen. He didn’t mind throwing some money and a bit of effort at the green tasks, so long as I agreed to recognize that being eco-conscious was not important to him and that he wouldn’t change his own personal habits in any way. Okay, fair enough. I had enough passion for both of us. Didn’t I?

 Feeding my worm babies, April 2010

Feeding my worm babies, April 2010

Turns out I didn’t – not for green living and not for the relationship, either. It was all so well-intentioned. I acquired fermentation crocks, canning supplies, reusable water bottles, fabric snack bags (to replace Ziplocs), bamboo utensils… I bought a new bike so I could start commuting the “green way.” We made that garden and bought that worm bin. I even sewed trash bags out of Former Boyfriend’s old sleeping bags so we could use them again and again and again, making less plastic waste.

The garden was pretty successful for a few years. The only issues were keeping it fed well (the soil here is famous for its lack of fecundity) and the earwigs – ick. I loved the worm bin and came to think of the worms as my little babies – I greeted them every morning and said goodnight to them before bed. The worm tea was great for the garden and the compost, when I could be bothered to process it, was fairly helpful. I loved riding my bike to work and bringing my eco-friendly lunch supplies with me.

I earned a reputation for being a bit of a freak, I think. People took notice of me riding my bike to work, even when it was 15 degrees and snowing. And I’m pretty sure friends and family were disgusted by my worm bin (except my nephews, who thought it was awesome). And there was that brief experimentation with cloth toilet paper (just number one, people, I promise!)…definitely earned me some sidelong glances. What can I say? I was committed!

All these years later, the canning supplies are sitting in a box in my closet, unused for the past two years. I can’t even remember the last time I used my fermentation crock. I don’t bicycle much (though that’s partly because my new job is 20 miles away from my home). The worms are gone (it became too much of a pain to harvest the compost). The garden has been home only to what grows back from year to year – peppermint and chives.

 My sweet Madeleine, ready to ferry me to work, February 2013

My sweet Madeleine, ready to ferry me to work, February 2013

I can pinpoint the green decline to the moment my relationship ended. That idea of building a “green system” for my family was gone – there was no more family. I was revived in my green efforts when we were together again (there was a lot of on-and-off going on throughout the years). Each time we reconciled, I felt like I was remembering the future I wanted so badly – something to cherish, something to work for, something to protect. But I admit, the less he cared about the environment, the more my passion for it faded. Seeing him bring home 10 plastic bags from the grocery store every week when I had more than 50 cloth bags stowed all over the house and in the cars gave me a funny feeling – kind of like, “What is the point? Why am I trying? What are my efforts going to matter in this world?” In fact, I contacted the person who was heading the Ban Plastic Bags effort in our town a few years ago, intending to join their team and get the issue on the ballot, and when Former Boyfriend came home with a crap-ton of new plastic grocery bags…I decided to drop out of the volunteer efforts. It just seemed like too much of an uphill battle. Pointless, in fact.

Then one day, Former Boyfriend left for good.  By then, I’d waited 7 years for him to say he was ready to get married and have a child, and in one crazy twist of fate, over the course of just a few months, he decided to marry someone else who already had a child. After he moved out, I went around the house and threw away most of the last evidence of my attempts at green living. I threw away the sleeping-bags-turned-garbage-bags. I threw away all the bags of items that couldn’t be locally recycled that I had been storing in the garage. I threw away or gave away most of the reusable trinkets I had in the kitchen and bathroom. So much of it reminded me of the idealistic young woman I had been when I moved in with Former Boyfriend – that young woman who was building a home for the man she loved and a healthy planet for her future children.

It occurs to me now what an interesting coincidence it is that we have come to refer to the environmental movement as “green living.” Of course, green is the color we associate with nature, but it also happens to be the color associated with the heart chakra. It makes perfect sense – I’ve always felt that the earth is my heart, that it is the heart of every human being on this planet. It is our home, the place that birthed and sheltered us throughout our existence as humans. And it is the place our bodies return when our souls go home.

 The garden, August 2012

The garden, August 2012

I’ve always felt that we, as bodies and souls, have a much deeper connection to this earth than our commercialized, domesticated society would have us believe. Now I wonder if it goes deeper than that. I wonder if there is a particular correlation between the health of the heart (emotionally speaking, at least) and our connection to the earth. I have always loved the earth since I was a child, but had never pushed myself to “live outside the box” (i.e. try things that were challenging, like bicycle commuting or sticking my hands into a box of worm poop) until I moved in with Former Boyfriend. All of that was inspired by my desire to make the earth a safer place for my future children.

Zero children and the ex later, I still care about the future of this planet and I still want to treat this earth with the same love She has given to me…but where did the passion go? What happened to the girl who made water kefir and sauerkraut by the bucketful? What happened to the girl who could balance 25 pounds of groceries on her back while bicycling 2 miles up and down steep hills? What happened to the girl who didn’t care what other people thought about the worms in her kitchen and her cloth toilet paper? And most importantly, what happened to the girl who believed that her actions were actually making a difference? Where did she go?

This is all I know: Her heart broke and she lost sight of her future. Is that what happens to us all? The disappointments wear down our hearts, the worries of the present moment overwhelm our ability to project positively into the future…and so we just stop caring about what we throw into the trash? About how dependent we are on fossil fuels? About the thousands of little bits of plastic floating around in the ocean? If our hearts are hurting and we can’t see that far ahead…I guess who the hell cares about that stuff, right?

But I know I still do care, somewhere in there. I know many people do. Maybe it will take some backwards therapy. Maybe getting back to the earth will help us heal these aching hearts. Maybe it will remind us of the generations to come who deserve a beautiful, healthy planet.

Maybe it’s time to call the Ban the Bag people again and see if they are working on a new campaign…