Earth: It’s the natural thing to do
By Sylvia L. Lovely
I have years of formal education way beyond his,
but my 85-year-old dad always manages to get the best of me.
Being the Depression era bargain hunter that he
is, we were looking through grocery ads during my weekly visit
with him. Looking at the price of chicken at his favorite “big
box” store, I told him that I shopped for chicken at the
local health food store where the chickens were raised “naturally.”
He studied my face for a moment before asking:
“Are those chickens that are more expensive supposed to
be better for you?”
“Of course,” I replied with confidence.
Big mistake. I had not immediately picked up on that look, the
one he gets when he’s ready to zing me.
“I’ve seen those ‘natural’
chickens and what they eat,” he said. “It’s
not very impressive.”
Another “Gotcha!” from the champ.
The upbringing my parents endured was not a pretty
one. They were poor. As his comments suggest, however, my father
does not wax on about the “good old days” as some
unfortunately do. He is perfectly happy that he found opportunity
in the factories of the north just like so many of his eastern
Kentucky cohorts did.
That said, however, he has remained a man of the
land and of simple tastes and lifestyle. He knows trees and
plants and sounds and the needs of animals. He has learned to
live meagerly. He has an instinctual respect for the good earth.
(His homegrown tomatoes are not so much vegetables as they are
works of art.)
All of which brings me to Earth Day and the meaning
of what we celebrate by observing it.
I’ve lived long enough to know that life
is not simple and straightforward. Each day brings decisions
on how to live within the context of nature and the earth, and
yet it seems unnaturally easy in this day and age to break all
I can, after all, buy my “natural”
chicken at the health food store and never have to observe where
or what they ate.
Yet, my awareness of our lack of stewardship grows
when I read of the rising threats and resulting illnesses, both
physical and otherwise, that come when we are out of sync with
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the reportedly
squalid circumstances under which animals are raised in industrialized
A fundamental tenet of environmental stewardship
is to recognize our linkage in the chain of life. It is also
important that stewardship involve the proper use of the environment.
Nothing that we do is done in a vacuum. It matters deeply just
how well we use the materials that we need to survive and thrive,
and that nature provides us.
I optimistically observe that the sentiment for
stewardship is growing. While it is our helpmate in many ways,
technology is increasingly viewed as a foe as much as a friend
if we rely exclusive on it to connect with each other and with
the natural world.
A blackberry, in other words, sometimes should
be appreciated as the key ingredient in a cobbler to be shared
with friends and family, not as something for sending e-mail.
I recently read two books of particular merit
by some fellow Kentuckians. The Way of Ignorance by Wendell
Berry speaks of the important role of the farmer, who must first
and foremost know, understand and respect her land. The other,
Extreme Teaching by Keen Babbage, speaks of education and the
importance of being a teacher not of subject matter confined
to the classroom, but ultimately of how it connects to life.
It strikes me that at the end of the day, we are
at our best farmers and teachers—whether we are city or
country dwellers, children or adults, and no matter our professions.
We steward our “farms” – be
they our neighborhoods or community – and while this stewardship
begins with our local place, we also begin to see how our actions
can have an effect on the larger world out there.
We also teach by passing onto others around us
the respect we have for the sanctity of our environment, whether
it is the planting of a tree, the call for more green space
in a city, or the tending of a garden. And we can teach our
children the importance of stewardship so these values can be
passed on from generation to generation.
When my father and I spoke of chickens, it reminded
me of something regarding my mother. In her last days, I recall
being struck by the fact that she had never taught me how to
fry chicken, a talent that she had but one I never had or, now,
never will. Preoccupied by her illness, I had simply forgotten
to ask her what her secret was.
In a tiny way, not knowing how to fry chicken
like her is as much a lost art as my grandmother’s quilt
Then, however, I remember that quilt making is
enjoying a small but vibrant comeback. And can there be any
doubt that somewhere someone is frying good chicken?
Best of all, my quarter-of-a-century old son has
jut asked my more than three-quarter-of-a century old father
to teach him how to grow a garden.
I think I will be hopeful. It is the nature of
things to be so, and I wish to pay homage to the natural order
of al things.
Sylvia Lovely, President of the NewCities
Institute and executive director of the Kentucky
League of Cities, is the author of New Cities
in America: The Little Blue Book of Big Ideas. She is a
noted authority on community solutions and has been featured
on CNN, CNBC, ABC Radio, and in the Miami Herald, Indianapolis
Star and Cincinnati Enquirer. Lovely has been named one of Kentucky's
Top Women of Influence and Appalachian Woman of the Year.