Be 'Neighborly' in a Sustainable Way
by Lynn Fulkerson
It was a morning in early summer when I first noticed them dancing in the top of a dead craggy tree on the edge of our meadow. Further inspection with binoculars revealed a large bird of prey feeding its young. The dancing was a back and forth rocking and swaying as the young tore into palatable pieces of the breakfast provided by the parent.
A few days later, my husband, John, discovered a bird of prey caught up in the bird netting surrounding our blueberry bushes. With scissors and surgical skill, John carefully freed the bird’s talons while I observed, bird book in hand, this merlin falcon. It was, in fact, the same bird that was raising its young in the old tree.
Reading about merlins confirmed our observations. We watched the young ones fledge and begin their lives in our vineyard. A merlin’s diet often consists of other birds. They are extremely fast, which we were witness to on several occasions as they chased down other birds in flight. What better place to raise your young than a vineyard that attracts numerous fruit-eating birds. We net and we hang huge one-eyed balloons to save our fruit. Now the merlins were pitching in. What reciprocity! We provide the home and the surgical care and they protect our grapes and blueberries. It’s what neighbors do. We named the land we care for Merlin Meadows.
The merlins returned each year until the tree finally gave out and collapsed to the ground to be devoured by other neighbors, beetles and worms and other microscopic lives that we will never know.
My next door neighbor, Joyce, calls when she is going into town on errands to see if I need anything. I do the same for her. After hip surgery, she drove me to do errands she couldn’t do for me. I water her plants when she is away. We all understand what it means to be “neighborly,” although in our fast-paced lives we sometimes forget.
If I take the time to look around and think about who does what for me to make my life what it is, it is overwhelming and humbling. I think it was John Muir who said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”
My life, in fact, is supported by the entire web of life and is much poorer if something is plucked from it. I am dependent on the health of the soil, water and air. The soil that grows my food is dependent on numerous lives doing their thing. This includes fungi and bacteria, earthworms and ants, and, oh yes, even moles and slugs. Neighbors?! Ha! What have you done for your local mole lately?
I watch the swallows and the bluebirds eating mosquitoes and others as they swoop over the meadows. They use our bird boxes to raise their young. Thank you, neighbors.
The fox and the coyote feast on the mice, rabbits and snakes in the fields. A few years ago a two-legged neighbor boasted that he had shot and killed eight coyotes. Please, neighbor, don’t pluck them out unless you are going to eat them, and then only with gratitude for their lives. That year I struggled raising and harvesting vegetables before the rabbits destroyed my garden. We have never before been witness to such a population explosion of cute little bunnies. URRG! Yes, they are our neighbors, too, but to remain healthy they need the coyote and the fox, who, by the way, have repopulated the meadows.
Other neighbors we never see, but they, too, support our lives: those who raise our food in other places and climates, those who often risk their lives to put fish on our plates, those who for meager wages make and build the things that we use daily and without which we cannot imagine our lives. Often they handle pesticides and chemicals with no protection, have unsafe and unhealthy working conditions, and have none of the benefits that most of us enjoy. Their factories pollute the air and water where they raise their children. My husband and I biked for two weeks in rural and urban China. We witnessed children not knowing what a blue sky with fluffy white clouds looks like. Life is grey. They are breathing in the pollution from the industries we have transported to make the stuff we buy. The children along the roads welcomed us cheerfully. I asked myself how can I be a better neighbor to them?
There are no easy answers. The starting place for me is thinking about where all that I depend on and enjoy comes from. Who is connected to my daily life? Can I make better choices?
Can I purchase Fair Traded products and organic food? Can I invest in companies that are deemed to be socially responsible? Can I reduce my consumption and use less of the earth’s precious resources? Can I conserve energy and switch to generation of electricity that is less polluting? Can I support my neighbors who are farmers, weavers, furniture makers, musicians, bakers, bee keepers and who improve the quality of my life? Can I just not throw stuff away because I know that nothing really goes away? Can I reuse and recycle more? Can I remember to call Joyce and offer to pick something up for her in town?
I’ll give it a try.
Lynn Fulkerson is a member of the Litchfield Energy Task Force (www.litchfieldctenergytaskforce.org). Recently she has been in conversation with neighbors about the Transition Towns Initiative. Visit www.transitionnetwork.org