When my first child was born, I would drink a two-liter bottle of soda every day -- caffeine-free though because I was nursing my baby. I remember buying $50 designer jeans in high school in the late 1970s! (That was a lot of money back then.) I thought, "What's the big deal?" when garment manufacturing jobs started going overseas in the 1980s. I ate out more often than I ate at home, and a home-prepared meal was likely to be something from a can or a box. I never got any exercise more strenuous than walking to my car. I was heavily addicted to television. What happened to me?
|Me at age 20, standing in the middle. The woman sitting,|
third from right, was the knitter. Boyfriend is on the far right.
Another person I met during that time was a woman knitting a pair of mittens from wool that she had spun. Like most people, it had never crossed my mind that human beings could spin yarn from wool. At that time, learning to spin wool became a goal. It was a goal not realized for almost twenty years, but the seed was planted when I was in Nebraska.
Although I had read Walden previously, I read it for a literature class when I was in Nebraska, and somehow at that time, my brain processed it differently. Maybe it was reading it more than once. Maybe it was reading it after a geology trip to Colorado (pictured above). Maybe it was meeting the woman making the mittens. But whatever the connection, I finally "got it." I understood what Henry David Thoreau was saying. The designer clothes were not really important. Old habits die hard though, and I do recall buying a Gucci handbag a few years later. But the seed of simplicity was planted.
I earned my bachelor's degree from Eastern Connecticut State University, and my first New England boyfriend had a mother who was a Cordon Bleu chef. She was the first mere mortal I ever met who could really cook. I loved my mother dearly, but she either boiled or deep-fried everything, seriously everything. I loved my boyfriend's mother's cooking. She had her own restaurant, and I was lucky enough to help out a bit. Knowing her, I learned that cooking is something that anyone can learn. You can prepare delicious food in your own kitchen. It doesn't have to come from a box or a restaurant. She planted the seeds that gave me the courage to try things in the kitchen that most people never even consider -- like making cheese.
My parents planted a vegetable garden every year that I can remember, although I never helped. I don't remember ever pulling a single weed or picking any vegetables. My idea of gardening was overly simplistic. I assumed that you just plant seeds, and they magically turn into kitchen-ready vegetables. Although I had to learn a lot on my own, my parents planted the seeds that growing your own vegetables is possible.
I remember visiting my grandparent's farm when I was a little girl. All of the animals were running around together in fresh air and sunshine. I grew up believing that that's what all farms were like. Because of my grandparent's farm, the seeds were planted that made me believe that animals could be raised naturally.
Although I grew up in town, my parents would buy a calf from a rancher they knew. Sometimes my father would take it to the locker to get it butchered, and sometimes he'd shoot it and bring it home and butcher it in our garage. I was absolutely horrified as a teenager. "Why can't we just buy meat at the store like everybody else?" I asked my mother. And she responded, "Because you don't know how it was raised." She didn't elaborate, and I didn't ask any questions. I didn't know why it mattered, and I didn't care. But that comment stuck in my head, and one day in January 1989, when I was a new mother, I read an article about factory farming. I understood why my mother didn't like to buy meat at the grocery store, and with no alternatives for locally grown meat, my husband and I became vegetarians and decided to raise our children as vegetarians. My mother planted the seed that sometimes it's okay not to do the same thing as everyone else. It's okay if people think you're weird.
I was talking to a conventional-turned-organic farmer in January, and I asked him why he switched. "It didn't work," he said bluntly. "Conventional doesn't work." He told me about walking around with a pistol-grip syringe in each hand, injecting sick pigs with antibiotics daily. Then he told me about a conversation he overheard between his grandfather and his father. His grandfather said, "I don't understand why people think they can spray poison on food, and it's not going to hurt them." That thought lingered in his mind for decades as he grew up and followed in his father's footsteps, becoming a conventional farmer. One day he sprayed his field and forgot that he wasn't supposed to go back in there for a few days. That night he woke up gasping for air, barely able to breathe, thinking he was going to die, and he heard his grandfather's voice. He knew why he was sick. He knew he had to stop spraying poison on his fields and injecting his pigs with drugs. His grandfather had planted the seeds that decades later caused him to reject conventional agriculture.
Some people think there has to be a big a-ha! moment when you suddenly see the light and change your life, and it can happen like that if someone gets a life-threatening disease, but more often, it's the culmination of a lot of little things. So many people have come into my life and presented me with a new idea or a question that seemed insignificant at the time. But today I can see how all of those little seeds that were planted have grown into this beautiful garden that is now my life.