Ardent Eden

Ardent Eden is a place to explore my thoughts about the interdependence of life - humanity and nature - and to engage with others for collective problem-solving.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Learning Is a Road to Action

We're just back from a few lovely days visiting friends and family. (Unlike last time, we remembered to bring our dog along on the trip...) This holiday season has brought lots of thoughtful conversation/political rants and food for thought. I received two books that I have been dying to crack open: The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices put out by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Harvest for Hope: A Guide for Mindful Eating by Jane Goodall. I must confess that I feel a pang of excitement when someone gives me a wrapped gift that is obviously a book. And when I saw these particular books, I was positively gleeful. The first one is a rigorous study by the UCS of what individual actions have the greatest impact (positive and negative) on air pollution, global warming, water pollution, and habitat destruction. Um, that's right up my alley (see here and here). Jane Goodall's book is another one that I had been salivating over in the local bookstore as it's about the power of our food choices - - another subject that really riles up my intellectual energy (see here, here and here). And once that spark is ignited, I start to feel more hopeful. Ah, there is so much to learn!

I've always been a bit of a bookworm, and one of those people who truly enjoyed school. But the real education - the one that gets me fired up - has happened informally after college and graduate school ended. As a student, I had never done much reading about sustainability, the environment, the sciences. I've fed those passions on my own. And once I started learning about our natural world as it intersects with human activity, the mundane actions of, say, a typical Wednesday started to mean something in a way that they hadn't before. I've started to appreciate the beauty of nature in a more profound way than I'd previously experienced because, frankly, I hadn't noticed the details. My reverence for nature expands when I know some of the specifics.

For example, my husband has started down the path of birding. Fortunately, he hasn't (yet) reached the obsessive level of the birders I've heard about who wear pagers to receive alerts from fellow birders about sightings. Since I've learned to identify some basic backyard and migratory birds through our studies of field guides and the knowledge shared by friends, a walk or time spent at a park is an opportunity to scan the trees, brush, and fields for birds. Even when I don't see any birds, I notice the berries holding onto a bush through the winter or the seed pods that have been picked clean by wildlife. My experience of nature is enhanced, and I yearn for the next expedition.

And the next step? Well, it's coming home and thinking about ways to protect the beauty, the purity, of the natural world that I have experienced so fully...that I feel like I know in a deeper way than I had before. This same circle of studying-experiencing-taking action starts again when I learn more about trees, wildflowers, animals, etc. It also happens when I learn about an heirloom veggie, engage in growing, cooking, and eating it, and then reflect on how to change our food system to promote this sustainable and delicious way of living and eating.

Whether it's the identifying characteristics of an American Coot or the recipe for a winter squash gratin, being a life-long learner involves much more than an accumulation of knowledge. It's an active process that helps me better engage my senses in the world around me, and then take action to preserve this fragile planet. For me, the road to change often begins with the ideas in a book, a conversation, or a documentary film. My hope is that it will end with a better world.


  • At 2:03 PM, Blogger spiral said…

    Being a teacher, I especially appreciate this post. Perhaps I can get permission to use it in my classes? It fits nicely with my personal teacherly goals.

  • At 9:38 PM, Blogger lauren said…

    I'm flattered that you would like to use this piece in your classes! Please feel free to do so, and thanks for making my day. :)

  • At 3:55 PM, Blogger Melissa said…

    I am currently reading Jane Goodall's book and I have to admit, I was in tears after chapter 5. Let's just say that she has totally changed the way I look (or didn't look) at food and where it comes from. The health and well-being of myself, my family, and my environment certainly trumps price and convenience. Now if I could only get my husband to listen to reason and read this book . . .

  • At 5:18 PM, Blogger lauren said…

    Welcome Organic Vegetarian! I agree with you that Jane Goodall's book is pretty powerful. When I made the decision to become a vegetarian six years ago (which I've written about here and here), it was the result of reading many of the things that Goodall writes about for the first time. I was left aghast, and I just couldn't and wouldn't eat meat after that. I've never had any regrets about that decision. Reading Goodall's book is an excellent reminder of all of the reasons why I am a vegetarian who tries to eat organic and local foods as much as possible. I found myself deeply saddened the past two nights after reading about the animals living in factory farm conditions. I knew this stuff - it was the reason I stopped eating meat - but it still hit me pretty hard.

    I just took a look at your new blog, and I'll leave you a comment over there too. Anyway, I really believe that we all need to encourage and support each other on our paths! I hope you'll stop back often.

  • At 1:17 PM, Blogger Melissa said…

    I've been reading your blogs whenever I can steal a minute and find that you are such an inspiration. I've received several e-mails from friends concerning my decision to buy organic and go vegetarian and, thankfully, they have been supportive and positive. I am also lucky that I live in a city that promotes a healthy and eco-friendly lifestyle, so there is no shortage of resources. I'll check back often - thanks!

  • At 3:14 PM, Blogger lauren said…

    OV - Your comment means a lot! I've heard that Ithaca is a mecca for organics/vegetarians/environmentalists/etc., so that's definitely a help for you. We have some friends who moved back to Ithaca after living in Boston for a few years because they just missed the community so much. Anyway, I look forward to hearing more about how your decision plays out in everyday life. :)


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