My gift to you this Earth Day is a story. Everybody likes a story.
My father was a high school chemistry teacher, but more than that he was a pioneer environmentalist. In the early 80s while other moms coiffed their hair with aerosol hairspray my mother grumbled as she tried to obtain the impossible height of Cyndi Lauper’s bangs whilst wrangling the wetness of a pump action spray and cussing out my father’s beloved ‘ozone’.
While other lawns were green, and mowed my father had ordered, to the dismay of the neighbors, two dump trucks to unload piles of soil in our front yard. He wanted to allow indigenous Alberta plants and flowers to grow. Mostly, there were pine trees, dandelions, fireweed and black-eyed susan’s. But also, I remember lots of butterflies and ladybirds and aphids and birds. While other families had immaculate back yards with gazebos, pools and perfectly flat lawns bordered by impressive double garages our yard sloped down to the swampy edge of the publicly owned forest. We used the land just up from the swamp to grow an organic garden that grew our summer veggies and used the natural ditch as an even bigger steamy compost heap.
This was no 21st century plastic barrel composter with your pre-packaged worms and a handle to rotate and aerate the compost. Nope, this was a massive pit of rotting fruits and veggies that once and awhile we went out and turned over with a shovel. On hot days it stunk- but man, it made the richest, blackest, softest soil for our garden every year.
One hot Alberta summer afternoon my parents had left us in the diligent care of my older sister. As kids, we were often kicked out of the house for long periods of time and left to invent, create, build (often with ‘dangerous’ tools) anything we wanted. One summer, we built a tree house in the forest. 12 feet up the trees- my two brothers, my sister and I designed the structure, lugged out the tools and constructed it- alone. I must have been only 7 or 8. We used a handheld saw, nails, and left over wood from the real house my dad had built. The tree house had slatted walls, a solid floor and a slide ladder we had found in the junk. We learned about carpentry skills, measurement, and engineering concepts while problem solving how to get up the tree to put in the first boards. We learned about the attitudes needed for collaboration, work ethic, and failure. There were so many lessons, and it was SO much fun.
We went back one evening to see that the ‘big kids’ in town had burned it down. And, that was an entirely different lesson.
But I digress, this is about one hot summer afternoon. Like I said, my parents were out somewhere and we were in the care of my older sister, Tonya. On super hot days my dad would unroll 50 feet of clear polyurethane sheeting he had left over from the construction of our house and we would use it along with a hose and some dish soap as a poor man’s slip n’ slide. On this particular day, after tiring from riding our bikes, and digging in the frog pond, and picking caterpillars off the trees and playing hide and seek, we decided to make the slip n’ slide on our own.
We unrolled the plastic. We got the hose. We thought, if dad puts a bit of soap on the slide, what would happen if we used the whole bottle?
The frothy glint of the soap bubble rainbows were enticing but we wanted to make sure that it was, you know, ok. So, as a test subject, we sent my youngest brother Matthew down first.
“Take a running head-start” my older brother Jeremy shouted. And Matthew did. He zoomed down the slope, bubbles flying out behind him like a jet stream, he zoomed across the slippery green grass, he zoomed as if he were flying, he laughed hysterically and we jumped and clapped. Right up until he hit the compost heap.
Tonya may contest this, but in my mind’s eye, this is how it happened. Matthew emerged from the steamy mire of the heap, his glasses askew, covered in in bits of wilted lettuce and grated carrots, worms and rot. While Jeremy and I wet ourselves laughing, Matthew cried and Tonya hosed him off.
We moved the slide and continued on. We had learned from our failure.
Early in 2014 my brother Jeremy died of a massive heart attack. He was 40, super fit and left behind a wonderful wife, a three-year-old daughter and a week old son. But he had devoted his life to helping people; he was a Chiropractor and worked with people who had chronic pain. My sister Tonya became a Family Nurse Practitioner, and my brother Matthew a dedicated father and businessman. Each of us has a certain resiliency we learned from childhood. We understand that we don't know everything, but if we collaborate with others- we can probably figure it out.
More than that, we are my father’s children. We learned to be independent thinkers. We learned to take risks and to accept failure as a part of learning. He sowed the seeds for us to learn to recycle, to turn down the thermostat, to turn off the water, to get our hands dirty, to plant and eat what we grew. We learned early that we were connected- whether we liked it or not. Indeed, we are connected, to each other, to our community and to the Earth. We learned it wasn’t so hard to care- and now I teach my own students those same lessons.
I have no children of my own, and very few photos of my childhood remain. When Jeff and I write our books, the stories often are inspired from our own childhood memories and focus on the life long lessons we want to instill within the learners in our care. We created our company as a community so that during the precious time we have on this planet we can collaborate with others and have an impact. Even if it's a tiny one.
So Happy Earth Day. From our ED-ucation Publishing family to yours. May you reap what you sow.