Friday, February 14, 2014

Footprints


It’s one of those beautiful, bright days that often follows a snow. The clouds are gone and the sunlight is magnified many times over by the countless crystalline flakes that blanket the earth.
          Stepping outside, I squint into the dazzling whiteness and a sudden rush of cold envelopes me. I take a few breaths and draw the icy, crisp air deep inside my lungs. Stifled by the night of artificial heat in my cozy house, they open wide, like baby birds gaping their mouths for mother to fill their insatiable bellies.
          The fragrance of flowers is long gone from the rolling countryside. No fertile odors from the farm waft across the pastures. No earthy scent of fallen leaves lingers in the air. There is not even a hint of pine from the evergreen boughs above me. The air is so intensely pure that it seems, in the absence of others, to have a scent of its own.
          The dog comes bounding up to me, playfully pawing the ground and wagging his tail. His pleading eyes seem to ask, “Are we going for a walk? Please, can we go for a walk?!”
          I step toward him saying, “Let’s go!”  
He takes off up the hill like he was shot from a cannon, disappearing into the woods. In his exuberance he doesn’t even stop to sniff the day old rabbit tracks in the yard.
A few moments later he is back, the reproachful look on his face declaring his disappointment that I’m not keeping up. He paws playfully at the ground again and then turns, launching himself towards the woods. Halfway up the slope he stops and looks over his shoulder to check my progress.  With an exasperated snort he races through the trees out of sight, leaving a trail of paw prints behind and a fluttering cloud of feathered fugitives scattering in front. The triumphant bark in the distance, announcing his discovery of a furry, tree-top dwelling neighbor, punctuates the quiet. I can tell it’s a squirrel by his bark. His rabbit bark is entirely different.
          Glancing behind, I see my own neatly compressed, uniform prints behind me- human tracks. They seem oddly out of place among the other tracks around me.  A few moments of observant pondering reveals why: I’m wearing boots.
 Dog prints come from paws. Rabbit tracks do, too. Squirrel prints come from little bare squirrel feet. Birds etch their calling card into the snow with their toes.
Everywhere I look I see evidence that the creatures populating the world beyond my back door are perfectly adapted to their environment. They have no need for boots, coats, hats, houses and cars. They don’t require artificial heating and cooling to survive the seasons. Their non-toxic and environmentally friendly homes are made from what grows or is naturally found around them. Dens, nests and holes are perfectly adapted to the needs and comfort of their residents—never too big to warm by the heat their bodies generate, never any excess of space or ornamentation just for show.
They shop locally. Herbivore or carnivore, no factory farms or fuel guzzling trucks, trains and ships transport their meals from hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Their ecological footprints, like their actual footprints, are sized to fit, supporting them in a sustainable balance with their environment.
What a striking contrast to the human situation. My size 6 ½ boot print may seem small, but the ecological footprint of that one pair of boots is quite large. Factor in my disproportionate demand on the environment for food, shelter, transportation, goods and services and I have a print that Bigfoot couldn’t fill.
Unfortunately, though my footprint is large, my household budget is small. Converting my home to solar power or buying an electric car are not options.
So what is an ill adapted and financially challenged creature to do?  Education is always a good place to start.
I found some great information about my impact on the planet and some ecological footprint calculators at GlobalFootprint Network and Center forSustainable Economy.
The most important thing I’ve learned from all the blogs, forums, quizzes and pages is this: Small changes make a big impact over time.
It turns out my little 15-square-foot garden plot reduces my footprint and my dependence on a vulnerable food supply chain. It also raises my personal prosperity index by saving money and allowing me to eat organic, not to mention a myriad of other physical, emotional and spiritual benefits that come with gardening.
Sprouting and window boxes are smaller still, yet are a source of fresh, low impact groceries and beauty year-round.
And while we’re on the subject of food- how much is enough? I love food—maybe a little too much. Eating just what I need to be comfortable and healthy is good for me and my ecological footprint. I’ve found there are some things that challenge that principle, though. Busyness is one. Eating too fast usually means eating too much. It also means that something is lost from the experience. The sights, smells and tastes of our food are meant to be enjoyed. I find that cultivating the habit of mindful thankfulness increases my physical enjoyment and keeps me spiritually engaged through a worshipful attitude—not an easy task in a multi-tasking culture that often fragments our spiritual, emotional and physical aspects.
The reduce, reuse and recycle principles can be applied in many ways. There is something I started doing out of necessity years ago when my children were still children: thrifting. I know, it doesn’t have the same ring as re-purposed or even recycled. But by any name, buying second-hand and donating back is a money-saving way to lower the manufacturing impact of some goods. Composting is one of the most perfect forms of recycling and can be done with very little space.
I don’t dwell on the fact that I can’t convert my home to a clean, renewable energy source anymore. Instead, I’ve started doing what I can, as I can afford it. My first steps were purchasing hand-cranked and solar powered radios and lanterns. My most recent purchase was a solar charger for my smart phone. Also on my wish list is a solar charger for my laptop and the pedal-powered GiraDora clothes washer, once it’s available for purchase. Some no-cost approaches include re-structuring my day to utilize natural light and warmth and re-training myself to use less electricity in general.
Small changes in the big scheme of things? Yes, but they get me closer to my goal of a smaller footprint. They also save me money in the long run, while making me feel more empowered and less dependent on vulnerable infrastructure. All factored together that equals a big gain in well-being and the satisfaction of being a good steward of the blessings I have.
What are your ideas for reducing your ecological footprint?



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