My housemate is a fresh-air fiend and a gale-force wind is tearing through the house, sweeping it clean for the weekend. It was Earth Day yesterday and I wrote a long email to the editor of our village newsletter all about the doability and desirability of organic gardening and recycling. It may not get published because local farmers are so ecstatic about new pesticides and Roundup and genetically modified rapeseed and maize. As the grass-scented wind roars through the house, out the back door and down the valley, I wonder how much genetically-modified pollen or seed is being carried along by wind drift.
When I look out of the window I see harrier hawks and falcons soaring over the fields on air currents. But I can also see clumps of poisonous Lantana coming up again in ditches and invasive acacia seedlings swarming up through mud and grass on the river banks, ready to choke the waterways. There is an ongoing and sadly unsuccessful battle here to preserve indigenous fynbos vegetation from being overtaken by acacia from Australia. Our beautiful original forests of hardwood trees have been chopped down and replaced by water-guzzling eucalyptus and pine. Yet the picture is not all gloom and doom: the dombeyas (African wild pears) planted in my road are thriving, the area abounds in wildlife, there is no light pollution or urban litter. Those of us who care about ecology and the landscape do what we can. It all counts, every last effort.
Amusing but ironic quote from The Cosmology of Reya:
I love watching films from the early 1960′s. When someone is ill or faints, a caring person will inevitably pour brandy down their throats. When they wake up, someone will hand them a cigarette. People in 1960′s movies smoked cigarettes while in the hospital. Wow. Hmmm … unclear on the concept, eh? When a film character is experiencing grief or sadness, inevitably a caring someone will say, “Stop crying. Here. Have a martini and a cigarette.” Wow.
We all remember those days, don’t we? When I was very newly sober, I would lie awake and worry about what would happen if I was hit by a bus and knocked unconscious and came around to find a Good Samaritan pouring neat brandy down my throat. Would I be able to seal my lips tight and grit my teeth together in the nick of time or would I gulp down the brandy and immediately fall back into hopeless alcoholism? It hasn’t happened yet and those kinds of scenarios don’t really bother me much any longer.
For many years I lived in the city and I would walk to work along streets where I could look at lime trees or peach trees in flower or the changing colours of the fiddlewood. There was a family-run Italian restaurant with olive trees in terracotta pots paired at the entrance, and I would greet the shining silver trees like old friends each Monday. Over months I would befriend city pigeons and starlings that darted from windowsill to parapet to pavement. On the balcony of my apartment I grew herbs and pots of lavender. Because I was drinking like a fish most of the time, I would forget to water growing things and would kill off my plants in summer. The remorse would send me off on renewed bouts of drinking, muttering to myself ‘Each man kills the thing he loves’. Guilt and alcoholism go hand in glove, perfect co-conspirators. Still penitent, I would bring home new pots of basil and rosemary, over-water them and they would drown. But there were hedges of myrtle and scented pink frangipanii trees in my road and I couldn’t harm those. As the years passed, I hungered for nature and a garden more and more.
Now I live out in the country with a slightly unmanageable and overgrown but madly organic garden, with mountains and rivers and open veld stretching away through the valley and beyond. And because I am sober, I can do more than just be a spectator to my own life and the beauty all around me: I can participate, help sustain and protect the fragile ecology I call home.