Of Beets and Bounding Lambs

The wind and sun dry the soil from the rains earlier this week. Below the surface I feel the dirt between my fingers, caking under my fingernails and in the small grooves on my palm and fingers; I could give a fingerprint with dirt. I take each beet by hand, their thin red roots wrapping through and around their soil blocks, two or four leaves taking shape, and place it below the surface amid the moisture-filled soil, covering it again with dry dirt, leaving the pink, yellow, green leaves to yearn for the sun and the roots to drink the rain.

Today is exceptionally windy. The forest of carrot tops in the next bed leans to the north, but the winds from the south are cool winds. I look up as the cry of a red-tailed hawk is carried on the unseen rush of air. It glides and hovers above the trees; it doesn’t need to flap its wings. The crickets have emerged in force in the late summer, adding their strings to the symphony.

Two years ago I wrote about recycling, how it’s pretty great, but how it’s also strikingly American in that you can care about the environment without changing a single lifestyle action in our habits of over-consumption. Technology will save us, so we can keep living like the resources are endless. I wrote a lot about sacrifice – how we need to change the way we live, maybe even live with less, consume less.

I figured going green does not mean simply buying products that are partially recycled. It does not mean driving a Prius instead of a hummer. It does not mean nuclear power plants instead of oil rigs. It does not even mean buying organic Clif bars instead of snickers. It means consuming LESS. Buying less. Living on less. It means living in relationship to the earth in all it’s beauty rather than trying to conquer it, master it, enslave it, rape it, overcome its limits, or replace it with technology.

Beds of Beets
I still think that’s true. Some suggest it would take nearly four earths for all 7 billion people to consume resources the way we do in the US. Something has to change.

But over the last two years, things started to change for me. A change in perspective, or a change in motivation, maybe. That change has to do with those beets and carrots, the wind and the sun and that red-tailed hawk. It has to do with the rain pelting my skin on dirt trails in the Himalaya, the sand caking in the cracks around my eyes in the desert ruins of Umm el-Jimal, with almond and apricot and olive trees in Bethlehem, with pulling a little girl with rosy cheeks on a sled over crunchy snow in Ukraine.

It has to do with love.

It has to do with feeling the grasp of a Eurasian blue tit on my fingertips, feeding on seed from the palm of my hand, watching week-old lambs bounding through fields, kicking their hind legs left and right and tumbling over each other with a reckless seizing of their new life, swimming gently, but excitedly away from an eel making curves on the seafloor. I could not help but fall in love with it all.

Eurasian Blue Tits

Sure, sacrifice may be necessary to live in relationship with the earth. But in the slowing down, the open eyes and open hands, the day-to-day embrace of that relationship in the rain and dirt and breath, we might find something more powerful than guilt-induced sacrifice.

Beauty will save the world, Dostoevsky’s Idiot liked to proclaim. Maybe the beauty of the world – when we learn to see it – will provoke in us a love powerful enough to save it yet.


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