Friday, July 22, 2005

Modern Girl vs the Earth Goddess

I've been thinking a lot lately about the environment and the dichotomy between all our wonderful new "advances" and the more traditional values with which I was brought up. A little-known fact about me is that I was raised on a small farm which used to be an old homestead, and in conditions that my friends considered very "primitive." When we moved to that property I was about five, and I still remember the ruts going through the woods from the old wagon road that was there and the toppling-down remnants of two old log cabins--or perhaps one cabin and one barn. We ate apples and plums from trees left behind by the original settlers and drank from an actual spring on the property. I remember washing clothes with an old wash frame, galvanized tubs, and a washboard until we found out where the local laundromat was and started going to wash there. While I was a teenager I ironed my clothes with a sadiron heated on the gas range, and long after I'd grown up and moved away, my grandmother washed her clothes with an old wringer-type washer which she never taught me to use because she was convinced I'd get my fingers stuck in the wringer.

I've watched episodes of reality shows where modern city dwellers had to go out to a semi-wilderness area and live in pioneer-style log cabins in much the same way and with the same technology the settlers did. What fascinated and horrified me was that so many of us nowadays are completely unprepared to cope with those sorts of conditions, and when you take the city-dweller out of the city and tell them to fend for themselves under "primitive" conditions, they have trouble--big trouble. But remembering my childhood in Montana, I realize that while I've come to love my modern conveniences perhaps a little too much, I would be fine if they were to put me in that log cabin and tell me to cope. A part of me misses the long weeding sessions in the garden and the endless bean and pea harvests, the pea shelling, the washing, the carrying and stacking of wood. And sewing for yourself--wow. I still own the same Singer machine my folks bought for me when I was in college, but it's buried under who knows what in the room my kids use for their homeschool. How I envy Tamera with her quilts! I used to be an avid herbalist, and when my kids were small, we grew a vegetable garden every year in our back yard. Now my days are ruled by a daily planner, without which I cannot cope. Where do I have to take which kid when, and what is my next scheduled responsibility?

I have become, by necessity and even by choice, a (small) city girl. I love going to big cities but I hate to drive in them, and while I'm there, my car of choice is a limo. (This isn't because I have delusions of granduer--although that may be true--but because I have a theory that all the best drivers tend to work for the limo companies and I've never feared for my life while riding in one. A taxi, on the other hand, is almost as stressful as driving myself through a big city.) I love the convenience of having a cell phone, my laser printer is one of my favorite possessions, and I adore my computers. I've even hacked on html code, which for me is quite an accomplishment. Word for Windows is far different from the manual typewriters I learned querty on, and I wouldn't trade my ergo keyboard for anything but a newer model. I like restaurants, movies, and Estee' Lauder products. I bought the new Ford 500 car because of its side-curtain airbags and built-in safety features. I adore the in-dash CD player and the volume controls right there on the steering wheel. Our digital cameras are so wonderful and convenient that I'm thinking about getting a digital camcorder as well.

But on the other hand, I've had the urge lately to find a way to meet my past halfway. Use a few herbal shampoos and cosmetics, make a few things from scratch, teach my kids what a washboard and sadiron are for, and make sure they know how to cope with a few "primitive" technologies. When Y2K came I was almost hoping for something to happen, and when there wasn't even so much as a power blip I sighed in a combination of relief and resignation. It doesn't surprise me in the least that a lot of the "new" amazing cures for this or that ailment being touted on infomercials now are derived from simple herbal remedies that most of the drug companies would like people to forget exist. Women go under the knife to get bigger breasts when all they need are a few simple herbs. People put so many chemicals into their mouths and onto their skin that it's truly scary. But what if we could make a world where all our wonderful modern advances marched hand in hand beside a reverence for nature and a respect for our envronment? What if we could find a balance between our hectic lives and our need for relief from the stress we've created?

The other night, I was in front of the computer doing something that seemed very important at the time. My nine-year-old came to me and said, "Mama, the moon is full and it's rising and it's really yellow and beautiful! Would you come and watch it with me?" For just a second, I hesitated--but only for a second. How could I sit there and let such a request--such a moment--pass? I took her out on the balcony off the master bedroom and pretty soon the whole family ended up there, taking just five or maybe ten minutes to sit still and gaze at the moon. It woke me up to how much I'm missing by letting my life be completely ruled by that dang planner. I need some quilting. I need some home-baked something-or-other. I need a few minutes to look at the moon. And I need to remember that when I was sixteen, I sat on the hearth for hours during a very cold Christmas vacation and wrote my very first novel, longhand, into a spiral notebook.


tambo said...

Hey Kathy!

There's a lot to be said for the simple life. It's what were working for, here at the Jones'. We're in the deep burbs now - we live in what was my great grandparents' farm home - and until about 5 years ago there were cornfields and pastures west of us. Now it's all houses and it's too built up, too close for my taste. It's a fairly substantial stressor for me, even though a lot of people would insist we "live in the country". I guess it's all relative. ;)

Anyway, while I don't want to go without electricity and running water - I love showers and my laptop too much - we're talking about hybrid cars and building a house off grid in the middle of nowhere. Raise livestock, have wind and solar power, build a home into the side of a hill... Become bohemians and all that jazz.

I think it's important to connect with the earth, that sometimes we lose track of who we are if we see nothing but concrete and steel. The other day, as I was walking into the grocery store, I looked up and the sky, omg, the sky about knocked me out of my shoes. I stood there in the parking lot, staring up at blue sky clottled by clouds fluffy an dark with impending rain yet gilded gold from the evening sun...

Excuse my ramblings, but there's surely a balance between your cell phone and planner, and shelling peas on the porch. I hope you find a piece of nature and connectiveness to fit into your modern world. For me, it's priceless and essential.


Zephyr said...

I could so relate to the things you said. I spent some time in Montana working on a wagon train. We took people out for 5 days and 4 nights, sleeping in tents, cooking over a fire and riding in uncomfortable wagons. I was surprised at the number who had never been out of the city and were really afraid of the wilderness.

I was raised in the country and spent most of my life gardening, canning and freezing, making yogurt with milk from my own goats. I loved that kind of life and miss it a lot.

I now live in a city in Australia and my spirit rebels at the close proximity of neighbors and no space for a garden. I long for a place in the country where I can see nature out my window as I sit at my computer and write.

When I was younger I dreamed of solar heat, wind driven power and a house built into the side of a mountain too. I wanted the garden and the fresh eggs and the goats for milk. Many times I wish I had stuck to that dream and wonder how different my life would have been if I had.

I pray that all of us who wannabe back in the country while hanging onto the essentials like our computers (that's my necessity) will find the way that leads us back. Write on til then!