Making a List

Spending the day inside staring at the computer with TweetDeck running in the background is no substitute for a day out gazing at the landscape, but with one of my deck’s columns devoted to “enviro” it’s possible to maintain some connection with what’s going on out there.

Except that following threads in that category rarely brings me to a better place. (Maybe I just need to follow more uplifting folks, although those posting links to well-executed environmental literature seem to elude me.) Instead, in this season of consumption I’m led to question my integrity, or at least dedication, in the matter of sustainable living.

Am I doing enough? And for the right reasons?

The self-accounting goes something like this: One vehicle, not two. A townhome, not a house. Repeated spasms of downsizing, first to move, then to move again, then to fit into a space that is destined—by personal commitment, if not exhaustion—to be a “permanent” one. Less food and even less bad food. Gargling with hydrogen peroxide and cleaning with baking soda.

I’d like to feel good about all this as I coast down Beaver Street on my 10-year-old Raleigh or squeeze into a seat on the Mountain Line bus, Route 2, hoping to beat the campus-bound Mountain Link to the transfer stop. I’d like to feel as if these are concessions and sacrifices made for a high moral purpose.

But my mind, socialized in the Boomer generation and irradiated with consumerism, commercialization, and competition, won’t allow it without a fight.

This is my condition, that flinching inner voice says, because something has gone awry. Two master’s degrees and three (four? five?) careers and a few essays published here and there. And now living paycheck to paycheck, savings rate 0 percent. Really? This isn’t about sacrificing. It’s about mediocrity. No, failure.

But, my rational self tries to counter, this is about choices. I’m living humbly and purposefully in a place that speaks to my soul instead of my ambition. I car camp with my wife and son, the elk and coyotes serenading us at midnight. We walk and bike on urban trails. Our commitment to family—stay-at-home mom, 8-to-5 dad—invokes our commitment to sustainability and simplicity.

Maybe, I hold out, this is a deliberate life?

This current state, simple and modest, with little that is discretionary and disposable, may be more than just the accident of falling off the hamster wheel, or of never having gotten a good grip in the first place. Perhaps, after enough time, the underlying principles and traits that have motivated a lifetime of choices—even the inexplicable ones—begin to take shape as a lifestyle. Even if it took me five decades. And if all generally seems right, then it’s about time to stop carrying around my ready apology for how I live.

One less item on the “unnecessary” list.

About Eric Dieterle

A writer of environmental literature and a public affairs coordinator at Northern Arizona University.
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