…not me. I’m not the grand prize winner of the Go Green on Gather Contest (read the winning entry here). Alas. As a finalist, however, I do have $100 in trees from the Arbor Day Foundation coming to me. Good thing I love trees! Since I was a kid, I’ve wanted a weeping willow. The Arbor Day site says that they’re not good for our zone 4, but I’ve seen a few around here. And since they thrive where there’s lots of water, I think we can get one to grow. We have a spot where rainwater tends to collect and a little Cottonwood grove has taken root soaking up the water. Might make a good weeping willow spot, too.
Since the contest is over, I’m posting my entry here:
Recycling, composting, driving less, buying and consuming less, installing compact fluorescent lightbulbs, xeriscaping, organic gardening, shopping locally. All of these are excellent and necessary steps to take in earthkeeping. But I agree with Alan Durning and Wendell Berry that striving toward sustainability starts with being rooted in a particular spot. Durning speculates in his book This Place on Earth, “There may not be any ways to save the world that are not, first and foremost, ways for people to save their own places . . . begin with place, and specifically, with one place.” I think he’s onto something. So, my resolution is a quiet, simple action. I’m staying home.
My husband and I have decided to do everything we can to stay in one spot for as long as possible—we hope for the rest of our lives. That particular spot is on the shores of a little lake in the midst of the farmland of eastern South Dakota. We’ve chosen a spot already familiar to us. It’s where my husband grew up and it’s 50 miles from where I spent most of my life.
Deciding to let our roots continue to grow here is both frightening and liberating. It can be frightening, because we’re in a rural/small-town area, and finding like-minded people here is often challenging. Always in search of community, I sometimes feel the sting of isolation and miss the times in my life when I had near-daily contact with close friends. Then there’s the job market. It’s not bad for a town of 6,500, but it certainly doesn’t carry the potential of the more metropolitan areas of our region.
Our decision, though, is also incredibly liberating. We have dreams of an organic demonstration garden, some market gardening or a CSA, a straw bale greenhouse, and a straw bale art studio. Someday we’d love to open a café supplied with food produced as locally as possible, maybe even from our own garden. Will we accomplish all this? Probably not. But staying here for the long haul means we have the freedom to think about plans like this. Acting on those plans means caring more and more about our place and our community each day.
For a person like me, who often finds more excitement in the contemplation of an idea than in its execution, practicing permanence is real discipline. It curtails my tendency to dream about greener pastures: where there are more people with similar convictions, where there are more and better jobs, where it’s possible to live car-free and buy local food at huge farmers markets.
Of course, staying in one place can lead to provincialism and isolationism. That’s why it’s important to invite outside influences, to experience other cultures and places. I’ve enjoyed and treasured my times away from South Dakota and appreciate what I learned while in different places. For instance, we recently spent eight months in Vancouver, British Columbia, a city that is the polar opposite of our little town in so many ways. There we learned the discipline of living without a car. We walked to the grocery store, rode our bikes to work and class, and navigated the public transit system. I took an organic gardening workshop at the City Farmer demonstration garden and learned about community kitchens.
These great experiences, however, didn’t convince us to pull up our South Dakota roots. We deeply love our place and can’t imagine planting ourselves anywhere else. We know there is work to do here. There is prairie to restore. There is a regional food network to build. There are people to encourage along the way. So, we’ll do something profoundly counter-cultural: stay put. Choose place above career. Integrate our vocations with our place. Practicing permanence will allow us to learn much more about the land here, its creatures, its ecology, its people, and its history. I hope that practice will help us care for the land more deeply.
Ultimately, I believe what Wendell Berry says in his last poem in A Timbered Choir: “There is a day when the road neither comes nor goes, and the way is not a way but a place.” That day has come for me. The way to a more sustainable life indeed is a place.