For Earth Day: The Little Things

For at least a year now, a large jackrabbit has been a regular in our neighborhood. Last spring*, when Claire had only been walking a couple of months, we saw him more than once in the grassy open area in front of our townhouse, or in neighbors’ yards, and I was surprised and thrilled that she could spot his drabness against the dead grass. We would follow him together, sometimes as she tottered wildly on her own, sometimes with her in my arms, until we got too close and he bounded away.

This winter, unseasonably warm here as in the rest of the globe, snow was late coming, but he turned white anyway. I spotted him more than once, looking stark and vulnerable against the green and brown grass, a portent of changes happening too fast.

One night in the late fall, I was coming home late from an outing, driving on the highway — prairie on one side, urban sprawl on the other. In the dark and silence, memory and melancholy pressed in, on the dull edge of this drab city. As I pulled off the highway onto the busy road into our suburb, I suddenly thought of the rabbit and hoped he stayed away from the 4 lanes of traffic I was on. Then I pulled into our driveway, and there he was, glowing in the headlights, luminous against the dying lawn. I called my partner and told him to come to the front and look out. It was too magical a moment to have alone in car.

When the snow came, I was relieved for the rabbit, even though his camouflage really mattered little here. I saw him a couple more times during the winter. Then a couple weeks ago, back on that same busy street, I drove over a pile of white fur. I didn’t want to wish for the death of any animal, but I hoped it was anything but the rabbit.

A couple days ago it was a warm, cloudless day, too warm for March. Claire and I were walking along that road and as we stopped to look at things, I noticed a flash of white fur on the grass by the road. I went closer and it was a rabbit foot — the rabbit’s foot, I was sure. Way bigger than a domestic rabbit’s foot, and furrier. Little bits of pink bone and tendon protruded from the fur.

I thought about the rabbit the rest of day, and at night as I lay down with Claire. I  thought about wildness and wild things and how we like to think that we do them no violence as we continue to expand and consume at will. I thought of the violent moment of impact that crushed that beautiful animal, and recognized that I do violence, too, when I drive and contribute to the emissions that change weather patterns, creatin bigger and bigger storms, destroying the lives of millions in the poorest countries in the world; we do violence when we get rid of a perfectly good cell phone or laptop because we want an upgrade and that phone ends up being “recycled” by a small child in China who is exposed to toxins before those toxins make their way into the environment; we do violence to wild things when we buy a myriad of products containing non-sustainable palm oil that comes from places where wildlife are poached and displaced to make room for palm crops, and on and on.

It’s just a rabbit, just a small thing, this death of one wild creature. But we do small things every day that add up when repeated by millions (or billions) of people and these small things create enormous dangers for both human and animal populations.

I kept thinking of the whiteness of the rabbit against the late fall grass, and then again the whiteness of his foot against the early spring grass — always out of sync with the world we are shaping. I thought of how he had changed to white for the last time that fall. That same day a friend said to me, almost in passing, “you know the last Black Rhino is gone.” I wonder how many more lasts I will see in my lifetime, and, even worse, how many Claire will see in hers.

I read a tweet recently by @YourDailyVegan that said, “Every purchase is the opportunity to save lives & affect positive change. Awesome how much control you have in the world #vegan.” I love this. As a parent, I feel especially helpless to shape a positive world for my child when so much is out of my control, like the loss of the last Black Rhino. But this tweet reminds me that so much else is in our control — like reducing reliance on animal products in our diets, buying fair trade and sustainable options, refusing to buy unnecessary plastic and packaging, not using micro-bead products, unplugging chargers, and much more.

After all, the little things are the big things.


*I wrote this last March but never published it, so the spring mentioned here is actually the year before last.


2015: The Year of Doing Less.


Shortly before Christmas, our Moms’ Network had a Christmas party: 15 mom and 15 babies. Potluck lunch. Cookie exchange optional. I opted in for the exchange. The night before, Claire miraculously went to sleep at 10 [we’re now sleep training so she sleeps closer to 8 or 9, but 10 was good at that time], so I started baking and enlisted Jeff’s help making a butternut squash soup. I picked a favorite Christmas cookie my mom makes every year.

I realized very quickly that I had made a huge tactical error. Tradition dictates that the cookies be rolled into little candy cane shapes then iced after they cool. I rolled cookies until 1 in the morning, while directing Jeff with the soup. Then I went to bed. Then Claire woke up for her first nightly nursing session. First of 4 or 5. Needless to say, we slept in until 9. That gave me 2 hours to ice 60 cookies (40 for the exchange, 20 for Jeff’s office party), finish soup, feed baby, dress baby, dress self, get baby to nap, get baby to wake up from nap, get baby into car, get cookies into car, get soup into car, survive baby’s inevitable car melt-down, and get to party on-time.

Needless to say, I was late. I got lost on the way, turned a frantic U-turn because Claire was screaming and I was losing my mind, and the vat of soup spilled all over the floor of the car. The party was almost over when I got there. Most of the people participating in the cookies exchange were gone or leaving; I missed the thread that said people were going to bring the cookies all parceled out (mine were on a huge cardboard fruit flat), so no one was able to take mine home. My soup arrived in a half empty sloppy bowl and no one ate it because lunch was over. I begged one of the moms to take some of the cookies to the moms who lived near her, and I passed off the remaining soup on the host. There was also a collection for the foodbank; I had bought food the night before, and forgot to bring it. All in all: disaster.

The mom who had to deliver my stranded cookies showed up in a beautiful dress, with beautiful hair (as always), and little decorated jars of homemade hot chocolate in pretty gift bags for everyone. And beautifully packaged cookies for the exchange. I’ve written before about human extremes, and this lovely girl is a prime example. My go-to response when confronted with such a shining specimen of organizational perfection is usually to feel like a complete failure, but I quickly realized (while scrubbing butternut squash soup out of the car carpet) that the example I needed to look to was that of the mom who agreed to take part in the cookie exchange only on the grounds that she could buy cookies. This is a woman who knew her own limitations.

This all reminded me of the time in third year PhD when I was one of 2 lucky students who got that year’s tickets to the Governor General’s award gala at the Governor General’s residence (a mansion straight out of a Jane Austen novel). My friend Kate came to help me get ready, which really meant we sat in my kitchen drinking wine and eating olives for far too long and then trying out updos and falsies. I ended up standing on the street in Chinatown, at the last minute, frantically trying to flag down a cab — not an easy task during the dinnertime rush. When I finally got one, I sat in the back of the cab as it struggled through downtown Ottawa rush hour, frantically checking the time on my phone.

Looking kindly at me in his rearview mirror, the driver said: “if you rush all the time, you miss your life.” I never forgot that.

I usually end up rushing because I’ve tried to do one too many things. Doing one too many things is usually the result of trying to Do Everything. I don’t know what it is about parenting that can bring on the compulsion to do everything, but it was this compulsion that made me sign up for the cookie exchange, even though several of the other moms simply opted out and even though we were heading to my parents’ the next day where there would be loads of Christmas cookies. I don’t know why I stayed up icing cookies until 1 AM and then rushed around and stressed and cried. But I do know that that cookie exchange was the one thing too many that I should have skipped.

And of course the irony is that in trying to do everything, I did, as the cabbie said, miss life, or at least part of it. I missed most of the party (and, also ironically, the cookie exchange itself), and more importantly, Claire missed being in the group photo of all the babies at the party — it seems like a little thing, but she might have loved to have seen herself with all her little friends some day and now she won’t. But there will be other parties and other photos and other chances to do less, rush less, miss out on life less.

So here’s to 2015, a year of knowing limits, not doing everything, and living more.