We walked around the nature center at Fox Island County Park, my granddaughter, my husband and me. She’s just turned 6 and has that happy inquisitiveness that youth provides.
We arrived via hybrid automobiles after separately running errands and attending appointments. Two cars to carry a total of three people. The new one is averaging about 52 miles per gallon and the older one about 42 mpg. (But it was still two cars to carry three people to a nature preserve to introduce our granddaughter to the wonders of nature and teach her respect and responsibility for our environment).
We try to be environmentalists, you see. We own a local bakery/deli business that uses whole foods (less packaging) for our scratch kitchen and try to source it locally when possible (about 10 percent to 20 percent a year). We use actual porcelain dinnerware and metal flatware for in-house orders, and have environmentally friendly carryout containers made from sugar cane (although they are still single-use throwaways).
We recycle glass, plastic, and paper, and we compost all of the vegetable and fruit cuttings for our organic garden (see below). We’re also looking to change to paper straws and bamboo carryout flatware. (But, really, do most customers need straws anyway? and don’t they have their own flatware at home or the office?)
But, we’re trying to be environmentalists, you see.
I also work full-time for a local nonprofit focused on developing a multi-purpose trail system in our community so that safe, healthy transportation and recreation options are available to all. I try to ride my bicycle to work when I can. My goal is 50 percent each week. It’s about 5 miles each way and takes about 20 minutes (It takes 8 to 12 minutes when I drive). But, I don’t enjoy riding when it’s bitter cold, or rainy or icy (although our ancestors trudged through snow and rain without heated automobiles). Over the past two years, I’ve increased my bicycle collection from one to four (because you can’t have too many, you know?)
But, I’m trying to be an environmentalist, you see. I serve on the ACRES board of directors, volunteer for Little River Wetlands Project and have an “organic garden” at home. But, I have to drive to the ACRES board meetings (40 minutes from work, on a busy afternoon), don’t get out to Eagle Marsh nearly enough, and my “organic garden” is lackluster. Not having enough time to constantly manage for weeds and keep it tidy has led to the residence of a family of groundhogs (who really love all the fresh vegetable peelings I’m adding to my compost pile).
I don’t feel my environmental ethic when I’m contacting the rodent-control folks again and putting up chicken wire to keep the groundhogs from invading my garage, or calling the arborist to schedule a fungicide treatment for my fruit trees because I didn’t properly manage a little bit of fruit-rot last year.
But, we’re trying to be environmentalists, you see. Before heading out to pick up my granddaughter and going on our nature-learning trip, I washed a load of laundry. It was 34 degrees and sunny, and I hung it out to dry. I considered the time that this effort was taking, as opposed to simply throwing the load in the dryer. I enjoyed the sunshine hitting my face. I felt really good about my environmentally responsible decision to put up a clothesline. (But five pairs of jeans hanging are mine, along with several of my husband’s sweaters, and I wonder why we have so many clothes in the first place. Our 1920s-era closets are bursting at the seams).
There are so many conflicting ideas available in the media and online as to what environmental actions we should take. Too many ideas, lots of guilt for not doing it all or doing it “right,” and sometimes judgment for those who disagree, and from those when we don’t measure up. Most of all, there are questions about whether any of this will make any difference anyway. What’s a grandmother to do?
Instead of trying to find the right list, or the right sermon, or the right organization to lead us on, I’m going to choose to do what my parents taught me as a child. I won’t get it all right, but hopefully, the example will be enough. I just want my granddaughter to understand and strive to always leave every place (every job, every relationship) better than how she found it.
Angela M. Quinn is the communityengagement manager for Fort Wayne Trails Inc. and is a part-time adjunct faculty member at Ivy Tech Community College. She and her husband own Pembroke Bakery & Café.