Tag Archives: not easy being green

What I finally found the courage to throw away


I spent good money on it. It was a special deal. Organic. Super-size pack. I dreamed of all the pleasure and wellness it would bring me, day by day.

It was more than four years ago, which I can only calculate because I can see in my mind’s eye having the big cardboard box of it in the apartment I haven’t lived in for over four years.

At some point, I tossed the cardboard box the fruity green Whole Foods tea came in, and I transferred the remaining plastic packets of tea bags into my catch-all tea box … where they’ve sat. And sat. And sat.

Unopened. For four years.

And last night, looking at them, trying to fit my Triple Echinacea tea into the box (stocking up for winter sniffle season!), I thought: Hmm, these are taking up a lot of space. 

And I thought: Maybe I’ll use them though. They’re still sealed in the plastic packets. Maybe I’ll want them this season. Maybe I’ll have a guest over who wants them. 

Gnawing away at my stomach, as my hand held them mid-air, frozen, was this feeling: It would be such a waste to throw them away. 

20141211-103633-38193731.jpgThen I had that vision of my old apartment, with a four years younger me, trying the tea I was so excited about, and not, to be honest, really loving the flavor. A little too fruity, a little artificial tasting. I hadn’t wanted another cup in four years. I hadn’t opened the packet to serve it to a guest. It was time to let go.

And then I remembered my loophole: my compost! Also known as the you-don’t-have-to-eat-that-shriveled-orange exemption, or the those-herbs-have-seen-better-days bin. 

Into the salad container in the freezer they go, like a limbo for sad produce and onion skins. And like that, years of letting this little mistake, this guilt-clutter, this biodegradable depravity, weigh me down like so many organic cement blocks, came to an end.

Back to the earth you go, poor little tea bags. May you come back as cherry tomatoes.



Autumn In The Garden Of The Winter Of Our Discontent

It’s December. October was really the time to put my summer vegetable garden to bed, really. To pull out the dying tomato vines, the bitter overgrown lettuce plants, the fall peas I planted that didn’t really grow in time to produce any peas. But, that didn’t happen. Who can even remember why?

So for the past week I was checking the forecast, hoping for a mild enough, dry December day where I could get to my plot and at the very least plant the bulbs I went on a shopping spree buying. Thursday it was! Low forties, no rain on the forecast, and I was going to steal a chunk of my freelancer’s lunch hour to get in, drop some bulbs, and get out.

Of course, the ground was cold and wet from all the earlier rain, and it soaked right through my gloves, and my jacket kept dragging in the dirt, and gross half-rotted fallen tomatoes were scattered around like tiny boobytraps. But, I persevered!

I just hope I did it right. Five inches down? Three? Oh who can remember! Here’s a photo of my Gypsy Princess hyacinth, Mount Hood daffodil, and Angelique, Sun Parrot, Black Parrot, and Lilac Perfection tulip bulbs all nestled in nice and cozy. (So I can refer back to this later and see where the heck I put them and if they all grew!)

That took long enough that I didn’t really have time to deal with all the dead or going-to-freeze-and-die-soon plants still in the ground, so … I just left them. But I still seemed to have un-picked carrots with healthy green leaves coming out of the soil, so I pulled them all up at once for my final harvest of the season. Pretty great because one of these is actually the biggest carrot I grew all year (maybe it needed five months to fully develop? What the heck variety did I plant?). And just one weird carrot grew a crazy beard of roots. So, that’s cool.


But back indoors, cozy and warm, are these amaryllis bulbs. They’ve been in my apartment, un-potted, for so long that they’ve started to sprout shoots anyway, even with no soil or water. Damn! That must be a good sign, right?


Oil And Honey. (And The Apocalypse?)

A (Completely-Read) Book Review

If you want to be inspired, thrilled, moved, and horrified—and you’re into choose-your-own-adventure and Never-Ending-Story type plots that evolve as you go—you’ve got to read Oil And Honey

It’s somehow a page-turner about legislative politics.

It’s somehow a page-turner about tending beehives on a farm in Vermont.

Basically, it’s a page-turner about whether or not there will continue to life on Earth as we know it. Author Bill McKibben is a new name to me, but the career he traces in this memoir-ish book makes it clear that I’m late to the game. He was writing books that warned us about global warming (like The End of Nature) back when I was still learning to write my name. Increasing desperation led him to put down the pen and pick up the sword of civil disobedience. It’s a bildungsroman about activism.

For years, he has had the privilege and the burden of being close to the numbers and the data about climate change. It can be easy to settle into a static sense of the problem: the planet’s getting warmer, I should really be “greener,” ah well. But he unleashes some real new data whoppers on the reader, and his anxiety that time is running out and the point of no return is maybe a quick sprint away, or perhaps entirely beyond our reach, is contagious. I know I mentioned “the apocalypse” in my headline, because that’s how I think about it. But the devastation of climate change is never going to be one big mushroom cloud. It’s going to be the disappearance, slowly or quickly, of the privileges, opportunities, resources, comforts, and beauty in our world—from urban creature comforts to productive and healthy farms to easy international travel to beloved natural landscapes.

Just a couple key, terrifying instances of McKibben math:

  • Two years ago, 15,785 record-high temperatures were recorded in the U.S. A regression analysis concluded it was “a once-in-4,779-years event.”
  • Scientists estimate we can put about 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere without totally, epically, absolutely screwing ourselves forever. We could do that in about 15 years. But what’s more, fossil fuel companies (and countries) have 2,795  gigatons at their disposal (at a value to them of about $28 trillion).

And yet, McKibben’s series of successes in mobilizing regular old people from around America and the world, through 350.org, the organization he and some of his students formed, are galvanizing. You wouldn’t think they could win—especially not right away—but they chalk up one victory after another. They move the needle, tick by tiny tick. They use the tried and true tactics of getting arrested in nonviolent demonstrations, and they put the power of the internet and email to effective use.

I’m not sure if I’m conveying how spell-binding I found all this. Like I said, it felt like being a part of The Never Ending Story, where the plot is created in real-time. Everything in the book is still happening right now. Nothing has made me feel more upset or more hopeful. Well, nothing except maybe participating in last month’s People’s Climate March, which 350.org organized in concert with many other organizations and movements.

You should read this book. It’s informative, fun, interesting, and unbelievably important. It will fill you in on lots of stuff that we didn’t catch on the daily news, and it will tell you what and where the most important fights for our future are happening now. Also, there are great, romantic vignettes about his friend Kirk, the wise Vermont beekeeper, and many apt analogies about bees and democracy and capitalism.

McKibben doesn’t demand that you take up a protest sign so much as he invites you to see the world in all its precarious beauty and creeping tragedy. And whether you know it or not, you and I are, at this very moment, a part of writing its last chapter.

Tale of The Bag Lady


Every time I go to the grocery store around the corner, I bring a canvas or nylon tote with me. Because I don’t want to be this guy … And because every plastic bag I see gives me visions of a smoldering landfill in a post-apocalyptic future, bags swirling like crows in the air.

But in my effort to stay out of the cracked-up-enviro-loony bin, I let myself take home a load of groceries in a plastic bag when circumstances seem to require it. But I swear to myself: I will keep them, dammit! And I’ll reuse every one! 

My efforts are valiant: I use them to carry maybe-leaking containers of leftovers that I’ll eat for lunch. I use them to wrap my sneakers up when I pack a suitcase. I use them to carry disgusting, oozing compost from my apartment to the community garden.

Yet the bags somehow manage to outpace me. I use one as a bathroom trash can liner, and five show up in friends’ hands when they come over for a potluck. In recent months they finally filled up the bag-of-bags in my closet and began to spill onto the floor like crinkly dust bunnies.

It was time for a purge.

I remembered hearing that many stores were required by law to accept bags for recycling, and I was certain I’d seen a collection barrel at my local big chain grocery store. So for days—nay, weeks—I kept thinking in the back of mind: I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna clean out the bag mess in the closet. I’m gonna bag up all the bags and get them out of here once and for all. Bag bankruptcy. A fresh start, a new beginning! 

But you know how it goes. You’re busy. There are more urgent spring-cleaning priorities, like the stained kitchen mat or the grout in the shower. Not that I was going to get around to cleaning those, but there they were. So I set a date: the last week of May. By then I would have planted my garden (didn’t happen), celebrated my birthday (did happen), and finished a major project (phew!).

Memorial Day came and went, and it was time to Address The Bag Situation.

So you can see what I did, in that picture up at the top. See it? I bagged ’em. And I walked to the further away grocery store, because the one closest to me definitely does not offer the take-back service. But when I walked inside: no barrel. No bin. No take-backs.

What happened? I asked one of the cashiers. Didn’t you used to take back plastic bags?

“Yes,” she said, “We did. But the company who was supposed to collect them would never come. So we had to put them out by the dumpster.”

Words could not have expressed my dismay. The round-cheeked cashier with the lovely green headscarf gave me a friendly smile, and I tried to return it cheerfully. I tried not to look like a person whose dreams of spring-cleanliness and environmental heroism had just been crushed.

Those two bags-full-of-bags? They are sitting at this very moment on the floor of my kitchen, right where I photographed them, waiting for my next bright idea for their future.

WNYC Bike Graph

Last one to the bike station has to take the train!

Even though the Wall Street Journal and other forward-thinking institutions believe New York’s CitiBike program is the perfect storm of evil, a silly-and-charming story aired on WNYC pitted the bike program against the subway and a Yellow Taxi to see which could return its radio producer to the studio fastest.

I’ll spare you the suspense: the bike won!

It’s probably due to that irrefutable journalistic evidence that the bikes are becoming so popular in certain areas, you almost can’t get one. Check out the graph below from another great bit of WNYC coverage of the new program. It shows that the bikes near Penn Station are basically “selling out” during the morning commute. I wonder if the main customers are people who commuted into the city afar — isn’t that a fascinating possibility?

Steven Melendez and Louise Ma / WNYC Data News Team. Follow @datanews. http://project.wnyc.org/penn-station-bikes/
Steven Melendez and Louise Ma / WNYC Data News Team. Follow @datanews. http://project.wnyc.org/penn-station-bikes/

I love that the program is seeing early success like this — now if only we could know how many of those estimated 30,000 rides a day (WNYC’s number) were from people who otherwise would take a car or taxi.

And availability does seem like a critical issue. As someone who’s pretty familiar with constant nearly-late-to-work syndrome, not knowing whether or not I’d get a bike would discourage me from making it my regular commuting routine, even if it only took me a block out of my way to go see. (Currently, I’ve still got my own private, personal bike. So 2012!) That block makes the difference between needing to power walk and needing to break into a light trot, between on-time-ish and definitely late.

Summer Circadian: I Slow Down, But Weeds Speed Up

Aaand … we’re back! Let’s not get bogged down in why it’s been several seasons since I’ve posted. I’ll give a quick recap / excuse: I’ve been living an increasingly-ish plenitude-style, four-hour-workweek-aspirational life. Even though the idea of getting off the corporate racetrack is to have more time, that doesn’t guarantee you’ll become an expert in time management.

As a peace offering to my own little blog, I will now share digital versions of several recent bouquets I’ve brought home from my garden plot — some of these items were grown deliberately by moi, and some were thrust upon me by mother nature. Weed bouquets? Oui oui, I say.

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Compost is gross. And beautiful.

I wake up on a hot summer morning and emerge from my bedroom. A sickly sweet smell greets me. Ah yes, it’s my food scraps again. They’ve been liquefying slowly, almost imperceptibly, for days, daring me to keep adding watery fruit bits or slimy flower stems to the festering science experiment I keep in a plastic grocery bag dangling on the outside of the cabinet door below my kitchen sink.

I notice some drips on the little floor mat beneath it, and scrounge up another plastic bag for reinforcement. I’ll have to take care of this pronto, but the first step is to get this out of here immediately, so I drop it outside my apartment door and light some incense to mask the stench. I make myself tea and fruit for breakfast.

One of my beautiful garden tomatoes turns out to be in worse shape than I thought, so I have to leave most of it sitting in sad pieces on the counter. I’ve learned to eat around the going-bad part, or the mess the bugs made, but I’ve also learned the hard way not to push my luck. It helps that I now know what I can compost. I grab my bag of rot from outside the door and add the tomato. Okay, I also throw in the half-dozen used teabags I’ve been stockpiling on the counter. (My roommate loves this.) Today must be a productive one, so I pack up my computer and head out, trying not to let the swinging the compost-bound bag at my side touch me.

The garden’s just down the street, but it’s hot, muggy, and mosquito-infested right now, so I skip weighing in the load I’m contributing to the compost bins. (We’re trying to track how much the garden composts.) I head straight for the bins and invert the bags. Something disgusting-looking always gets caught on the bag handles and won’t seem to let go, so there’s a good deal of shaking and weird arm gestures involved. Taking the cleaner outer bag as a kind of glove, I grab handfuls of “greens” and “browns” (fresh or dried out weeds and leaves, usually) from the other bins and cover the truly putrid deposit of moldy avocados, rotten tomatoes, egg shells, and hardened lemons I’ve left.

I enjoy a quick moment of pride and self-satisfaction, knowing I’ve pitched in for my garden community and diverted perfectly useful waste from a landfill. As I walk over to the garbage can to get these awful, empty wet plastic bags out of my life forever, some brownish liquid sneaks down my wrist.