I got a phone call from my old friend “Jane” this week. Jane and I went to high school together. We’ve kept in touch over the years as our lives took radically different directions. She became a city mouse: got married, moved to Seattle and became very involved in the sustainable movement. I became a country mouse: got married, moved to a small farm in Idaho and helped start a woodcraft business. Jane’s burning ambition is to get me to live as sustainable a life as she does. She can’t understand why I don’t embrace her vastly superior green lifestyle.
While we talked, I went about some household chores as we caught up on the latest news.
“I finally got around to replacing my old washer and dryer,” she told me. “I wanted a set with the highest energy-star rating. Are you still using the old clunkers that came with your house?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” I replied, as I hung a load of laundry on our indoor clothes racks. “New appliances cost so much.” I moved a clothes rack closer to the wood cookstove. Even in April, there was still a chill in the air. Thankfully, we’d just bought firewood – a logging truck of salvaged logs from an independent logger. It would provide us with heat for the next three or four years, maybe longer.
“Sometimes you have to spend money to save money,” she informed me. “My power bill has gone down by at least $80 per month since we started buying energy-saving appliances.”
“Good for you!” I said, as I pushed aside some paperwork on the kitchen table to make room to fold clothes. Our March electric bill was on top: $62.22.
“By the way,” said Jane, “I just found the most wonderful vintage clothing store. The retro look is very popular, and I picked up armfuls of jeans and blouses and skirts for a lot less than I’d get them at the mall.”
“Wow, that’s wonderful,” I said as I folded laundry, 95 percent of which came from thrift stores. “It’s great to be able to economize.”
“I’ll say. I’m trying to reduce my ecological footprint, so I’m only buying things that will help save the planet. For example, I’ve started ordering all my gifts from a place that repurposes stuff that would otherwise go into the landfill. I just got my husband this fabulous recycled rope magazine rack. It was a little pricey – $240 – but it makes me feel great to know my gifts are helping to save the planet by keeping things out of the landfill.”
I glanced at the shelving unit my husband had just made for me the week before out of scrap barn wood lumber we had lying around. It holds 30 one-gallon plastic mayonnaise jugs I’ve recycled over the years into bulk food containers. “You’ve always been so eco-conscious, Jane.”
“I try. I’m also trying to live healthier. I just joined a health club, for example, and I’m walking three miles a day on the treadmill.”
“Good for you,” I told her. “Lately about the only exercise I get is walking to our mailbox.” Our mailbox is a mile and a half away from our house.
“My husband started taking the bus to work,” Jane continued. “We decided it was more ecologically sound to use public transportation rather than the car.”
“That’s smart,” I replied, and smiled at my husband as he got home from his commute, which meant walking 30 feet from the wood shop to the house. I stopped folding laundry and started preparing dinner.
“I’m eating better too,” she said. “I worked two hours this week at our local food coop. It’s the most wonderful place to get fresh, organic food. I can get free-range eggs for under $4 per dozen there.”
“That’s a great price!” I said, glancing out the window at our flock of chickens, scratching for bugs and worms near the barn.
“We’re trying to transition to eating just locally produced, organic food,” said Jane. “I feel much better about eating meat now that I know it’s cruelty-free.”
“I’m sure it tastes better too,” I said, removing a package of ground beef from the freezer, where we keep the 500 pounds of beef from the animals we butchered last month.
“Did you ever try those recipes I sent you?” asked Jane.
“I didn’t try the coconut-curried shrimp,” I replied. “But the basil-pesto grilled cheese sandwiches were delicious.” We can’t grow coconuts, curry, or shrimp on our farm, but we grow basil, bake bread and make cheese from our Jersey cow’s milk.
“I’ve been shopping sustainably,” said Jane. “Paper towels made from recycled materials …”
“Oops, hang on, I spilled something,” I interrupted, wiping up water with an ancient cloth diaper left over from when our kids were babies. “I’m sorry, what were you saying?”
“Just going over the things I’m transitioning to that are sustainable,” said Jane. “Did you ever look at that website I sent you that sells recycled items?”
“Yes, but they were all so expensive,” I replied. “Recycled facial tissue – it costs four times what a box of generic stuff costs at the grocery store. Plus there’s the cost of shipping, too.” I idly watched as my husband blew his nose with a bandana.
Jane tsk-tsked at me. “You just don’t think long-term,” she scolded. “These items help save the planet. You know, my dear, you’re really not being smart about this whole thing. When are you going to move to Seattle and start to learn the proper way of living sustainably?”
I replied, “When are you going to come out and visit us?”
“Well, I’d love to, but Richard is so busy here. We hardly ever get out of the city. We’ve also become big activists, something we should have done years ago. We’re devotees of a website called Ecointernet. There’s a great article about how to end all logging. Just imagine how beautiful your place would be surrounded by pristine forests!”
I silently looked out the window at the vast swathes of forested hillsides around us, forests that used to be unmanaged and as a result fueled a wildfire that nearly burned three states to the ground in 1910. The nearest town, 17 miles away, is supported entirely by four generations of loggers and ancillary wood products businesses and services. Has Jane ever met any of the families she wants to put out of business, families who have spent over a century sustainably harvesting forests, replanting, nurturing and harvesting again? These are families that are keeping us from burning down again.
“I have to go, Jane,” I told her. I knew it would be futile to explain economic and ecological reality to someone who seldom left her urban bubble of insularity.
“Nice talking with you,” she told me. “Don’t forget to celebrate Earth Day! You have a lot to learn about sustainable living.”
“You’re right,” I replied. “I have a lot to learn.”
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