The aphids, having sensed the weakening plants on a cool evening, have arrived. You might not notice them at first, as you pick a few beautifully green leaves of kale out of the garden, but turn the leaves over or peek between the deep green folds and you may find little pockets of grey and white: aphids gathering en masse. They will stretch their hair-thin legs and stand tall before becoming motionless on the spot, to live or die with the group, according to your whim. It's gathering time.
Brush the aphids off or cast the leaf aside and choose another. Bring in that beautiful verdant bouquet to chop up with freshly-dug potatoes, toss with lemon and chives, or blend into your smoothie. It's gathering time for all of us.
Now that the nights are cooler I find myself more often sitting with friends enjoying a hot cup of tea and a sweater in the evening. My husband's warm embrace is comforting instead of stifling, and I feel like making stew, collecting up my friends for a chat, and my children for evening snuggles.
In the grocery store lineup I see people pile small mountains of vegetables on the counter, and I realize how lucky I am. For most of the summer, I eat from my garden. Having space and time and desire to grow our own food is not just a great gift, but a privilege. The ability to wander into the woods, pick salal, oregon grape or mushrooms, and sit silently listening only to the rustle of wind in the leaves is almost unheard of for many people.
This week I'll begin teaching in the city. The program I run happens mostly in the open wilderness here at home, but city bylaws and necessity for urban convenience mean that it will happen in a small forested park, there. Most of the forest floor in this park is bare, and littered with dog and horse poop, along with human refuse. We can't go into the creek because of course in such a small but densely populated location, our impact would cause damage to the bit of remaining natural creek. This is perhaps the downside of gathering: There are just too many of us, and when we get together we overwhelm the earth's ability to renew.
This year we reached Earth Overshoot Day on August 13th. Overshootday.org states that “Global overshoot occurs when humanity’s annual demand for the goods and services that our land and seas can provide—fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, wood, cotton for clothing, and carbon dioxide absorption—exceeds what Earth’s ecosystems can renew in a year. Overshoot means we are drawing down the planet’s principal rather than living off its annual interest. This overshoot leads to a depletion of Earth’s life-supporting natural capital and a buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.” So we've been going further into resource debt each year for the past forty, and where are we going to turn when the well runs dry?
Our well ran dry this year – in the way wells do on these rainforest hillsides: it's a shallow well dug into a small underground stream and the water level dropped below what we need to sustain our household's daily usage. So when I say it ran dry, that means one day the pump hit air, and our family panicked a little. At the end of the day the well fills up again, but to a lower-than-average level. We can still use water, but one load of laundry means no more toilet-flushing for 8 hours; we haul water around to fill the small pots we've planted beside some shrubs and veggies and a new pump was bought and put into the pond to water the vegetable gardens; we save laundry and bathing for later, and save even the hand-washing water to feed to our garden. This extreme attention to water usage has meant an adjustment in our thinking, and although it was certainly easier when the water flowed carelessly, I'm glad for having to learn this lesson.
I think the solution to our global over-consumption lies in awareness. Not the kind of arms-length awareness we get from reading the news or signing petitions, but the kind of awareness we get from having our own little wells run dry; from having to shake the aphids off of our own home-grown kale, and feeling remorse at seeing the ravens take our prized blueberries. It's those small, but sometimes desperately important details that we become aware of when we trade some city conveniences for the great privilege of connecting with the land. This recognition may enable us to enjoy consuming less; to live for what we do have instead of what we can have, and to gather in our hearts and community, for everything that we hold is dear.