Simple Green: On Earth Day, Confessions of an Earth Child

Carl Sagan_Trees
On my father’s farm, environmentalists grew with the cotton. I was my daddy’s Earthchild. In my earliest memories I’m clambering over the West Texas sandhills past straight rows of crops. I’m digging bare toes into the cool dampness that hid beneath sun-blasted surfaces. I’m sharing with the rattlesnakes the scant shade under the cockleburs along the fence rows.

The land nourished me. Quantities of arable soil made their way into my mouth. I ate dirt and it did me good. Modern science reveals that children from antiseptically clean, urban homes are more prone to asthma and allergies than those who grow up in rural environments. Though I waded in stock tanks awash in cow manure, I suffered few infections, never had asthma, seldom saw a doctor for any childhood complaint.

Our family wasn’t big on going to the doctor. My mom treated my itchy chickenpox with calamine lotion. When I dropped a knife-edged sheet of tin on my foot and nearly cut off a toe, she doused it with Merthiolate and wrapped it in a cotton rag. The active ingredient in Merthiolate is toxic and a cause of birth defects. Luckily for me, my sliced toe bled so profusely it washed out the poison. I wasn’t rushed to the doctor, neither then nor when a rabbit bit me. Both wounds healed with little scarring and no complications—no rabies or tetanus. Growing up on a farm makes for a wonderfully vigorous immune system.

Past fifty now, I still reap the benefits. I’ve been hospitalized only once, to have my wisdom teeth out. My tonsils and appendix live in me still. I can eat almost anything and not get sick. On trips to Mexico I enjoy lettuce salads and fresh tropical fruits, indulgences that leave most turistas throwing up their toenails. Blessed are we who had the chance to eat dirt and muck about in cow shit.

Few people remember Euell Gibbons now, but he was my childhood hero. Mr. Gibbons showed my generation how to eat naturally, how to live off the land, foraging for our food outdoors like primitive hunter-gatherers. Like him, I was game to try anything: roots and shoots, dandelion crowns, cattails, tree bark. These days when I go hiking I’ll taste any fruit, grain, or berry that lines the trail, picking them fresh from field or forest as Euell taught me. My husband swears I’ll poison myself someday. He’s probably right. As a young thing I nibbled an oleander blossom and swelled up like a toad, Mom said. I don’t remember that. But I now know that one leaf of an oleander is enough to cause death. Eating any part of the plant can stop your heart. Euell didn’t tell me that.

I went to college to become a park ranger or a wildlife biologist. Those ambitions succumbed to the impatience of youth. When the subject of careers arose, my professors let slip that jobs for rangers or ecologists were few and far between. This was the 1970s, at the dawning of the environmental movement. We had Earth Day (first celebrated in 1970) and the Clean Water Act of ’72, but we didn’t have anything approaching a “green” industry. (The 21st century hasn’t yet reached the healthy shade of green we should be enjoying, this many years on. But we’re getting there. More about that in a bit.)

The prospect of unemployment scared me. I wanted work after graduation, I needed work, and so I quit as a wildlife science major and switched to agricultural journalism. I’d grown up on a farm; I’d written since my earliest days as a crayon-wielding diarist: the combination fit. And I knew firsthand that family farmers were not the rape-pillage-plunder-the-Earth villains that urban ignorance held them to be. I’d watched my daddy put on the brakes, stop his tractor dead in the field even with the day’s last precious rays of sunlight fading in the west, so he could jump down and move a box turtle or a bird’s nest safely out of the plow’s path. My dad’s environmentalist instincts ran deep.

Now I survey my tech-laden home and I wonder what happened to me. What became of that primitive nature-lover who went barefoot through dunghills and wanted to live like a savage? I have all the comforts: a microwave oven, a fax machine, central heating and air; two computers, two printers, two scanners, two DVD players not including the ones built into the computers; four phones counting landlines and cells. How did I become so materialistic? When and why did I replace simplicity with clutter?

(Read the rest at Smashwords.)

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