When I was a child, I ran over a rat. On my bike. I was coming down a sloped part of the driveway, into the garage and at the last minute, a rat scuttled out from its hiding place and met an unfortunate end beneath the wheel of my bike. Of course I did what any accidental murderer would do – I panicked, and fled the scene of the crime. When the body of the rat, with a suspiciously flat middle, was discovered hours later, everyone assumed it had been unlucky with a car tyre. I kept mum.
Years later, and I mean years – like, twelve – I confessed. It was me who had run over the rat, snatched its life away in the two seconds it took for my bike tyre to rotate. I had harboured this secret for years for one reason; I felt I had let my Mum down. I had just harmed, no I had just killed, a living thing.
I have since taken several philosophy classes and, with Mum’s own philosophical help, come to terms with the fact a rat is probably one of the more acceptable animals to accidentally knock off (sorry Peter Singer). But my seven year old self was not capable of such rationale. All I knew was that I had killed an animal and, oh my Lord, that was a terrible thing. Just like it was a terrible thing when, in year four, my friend Karina squashed a beautiful green bug for no reason other than that she could. I was outraged. Fortified by the knowledge impressed upon me by my mother, that swatting away bugs simply because they are bugs, is wrong, I didn’t speak to Karina for the rest of the day. She was bewildered, but I stood strong.
You see, my mother is something of an earth mother. Not in the hemp-wearing, wild-haired, thistle-tea-drinking kind of way. Although the wild haired part can be apt, something she’s passed lovingly onto her children. No, Mum is an earth mother in the true essence of the term; she loves the earth for what it is, for what it provides and for what it can do. Consequently, she genuinely tries to live alongside it and always in deference to it – not just in it and absolutely not at its expense.
Perhaps the purest example of this understanding Mum has with the earth, is her garden. Mum is a gardener. A serious gardener. She’s out there, everyday, in the five acre haven she has designed, planted and brought to life, talking to the plants, nurturing them from seedling to sapling, from bulb to blossom. Her love of Australian plants has seen the native wildlife population boom and fostering this population has become a cause close to Mum’s heart and her crusade against their predators (largely of the feline variety) is a personal one.
In fact, fostering wildlife in general, is a cause close to Mum’s heart (hence my rat-panic and green-insect-stand). Not long ago I was having a writing day with two friends. We were working out a piece of dialogue when a flash outside the window caught our eye. It was Mum, running like a bolt from the blue, towards a crow. The crow had decided to snack on a duckling, whose plaintive quacks, combined with the crow’s violent pecking, had roused my mother’s attention from the kitchen. The duckling didn’t make it, not for lack of Mum’s box/towel/quiet place care and, because nature is an unsentimental beast and true earth mothers know this, its body was left out for the murder of crows, to distract them from snacking on any of its siblings.
I’m writing about my Mum in Green Week because she embodies the idea of starting small – of living as you believe. If you have a cause, fight for it consistently in the little decisions you make everyday. My mother’s cause is the earth. She may not be able to singlehandedly save it by wearing a cape, or organizing concerts with Beyonce and U2, or attending Rudd’s summits. But she can and she does go in with guns blazing when the neighbours knock down rare and beautiful trees; she can and she does give all organic waste back to the soil; she can and she does cultivate a haven for myriad species of native wildlife so they can live and reproduce in relative safety; she can and she does grow her own vegetables, catch spiders and put them outside instead of killing them, teach people of the beauty of what we live with and the importance of protecting it.
Being Green isn’t just about being kind to animals, drinking fair trade coffee, looking downcast whenever melting ice caps are mentioned and feeling smug about recycling. It is about understanding that there is a cycle at work, a grand scheme we, as humans, are merely a part of, and living in respect to and accordance with this understanding. And yes, in trying to live a green life, you will contradict yourself – you will fall victim to hypocrisy. You are human after all and we all know it is our divine right to err. But that’s no reason to write it off entirely. We don’t have that luxury – we never should have assumed we did.
Photos by … me … and they are copyright.
First published in Trespass 10/4/2010 as part of Green Week. Antonia Hayes is knee deep in the eating-animals-dilemma, Grace Edwards is pleading with Captain Planet to return, Lin Tan has shared some of her favourite ecologically sound designers and Beth Wilson has compiled one of her famous cinematic lists.