I’ve seen this look before. It’s the way my husband responds to news that I’ve planned a trip involving the New Jersey Turnpike. But that’s not my plan this time.
Instead, I share my resolution for the upcoming New Year — the New Year for Trees, that is — also known as Tu b’Shevat: 1) We will bring our own cloth bags when we shop for groceries; and 2) We will cut down our FreshDirect orders to once each week.
My husband approves of the first idea. But the second? He raises his eyebrows. He furrows his brow. He exclaims: “What?!”
As busy parents, we adore the convenience of FreshDirect’s online supermarket, and as discerning diners, we enjoy the quality of its offerings. But I bear the guilt of folding up a mountain of boxes each week, never mind discarding the reams of foamy packing materials as well as the plastic encapsulating each quartet of Granny Smith apples. We haven’t discussed this issue before, though, and, as it turns out, Jeremy — my nature-loving, highway-hating, vegetarian husband — hadn’t been experiencing the same shame as I.
Tu b’Shevat, which this year falls on Jan. 26, has not historically included a ritual of eco-resolutions. But it seems a fitting time to repent and reform one’s environmental practices. Vivian Lehrer Stadlin, co-director of Eden Village Camp, which is based on an organic farm in upstate New York, says that Tu b’Shevat marks the period “when the sap — the life force of the trees — begins to rise from the roots back up to the branches, bringing new life in the form of buds, then leaves and finally fruits. The change isn’t yet visible, but deep in the ground, vital energy is stirring.”
As she notes, the mystics of Tzfat said that on this day, divine light would renew our connection to our bodies and the earth. To foster this connection, the mystics created the Tu b’Shevat seder. “Likewise,” says Stadlin, “eco-resolutions and the reflection that precedes them are powerful ways of connecting with our earth.”
For her part, this past year Stadlin and her husband Yoni moved from Brooklyn to Beacon, N.Y., so they can create what she calls a “micro intentional community,” sharing resources and responsibilities with three friends who are also neighbors. Together they plan to cook and compost, raise chickens — and one day soon, children.
Even small changes can be difficult to implement, so I’m impressed when I learn of much larger ambitions and accomplishments, of how Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, the director of the Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network, is slowly but surely shrinking the lawn in her two-acre yard. This year she aims to create “a musical garden” for her grandchildren — a sort of rustic playground, decorated with simple instruments and paved with wood chips generated from a neighbor’s dead tree.
Meanwhile, Janet Buchwald, a volunteer cantor and Hebrew tutor who lives in a suburb of Boston, has gone locavore, increasing the percentage of her diet garnered from neighboring farms to as high as 75 percent. She and her husband have also introduced an “extreme local” practice to their lives, learning about and gathering edible weeds. She considers being environmentally aware to be a mitzvah — a commandment.
Closer to home, my friends Robert and Tracy Baron implemented a long list of initiatives in their Dobbs Ferry, Westchester community. Among the many successful ones: They convinced their sixth–grade daughter and her friends to conduct a weekly 30-minute walk to Hebrew school — “an exciting source of independence, bonding, and exercise for the kids,” reports Robert, who is president of Groundwork Hudson Valley, an environmental non-profit based in Yonkers.
Also, Robert says, it has been “wonderfully liberating for parents who are working who used to have to arrange rides for their kids — or wait in their pollution-spewing cars for 30 minutes to pick them up.”
As for my eco-resolutions, Jeremy agrees to consider my plan, but there’s a caveat: “No cabs.” If he’s going to sacrifice the convenience of FreshDirect, then I must agree to carry home our groceries on foot, rather than add to the planet’s greenhouse gases with a five-minute car ride. I recognize that this will be a backbreaking proposition, since our family includes two children who require constant fuel.
I cajole. I complain. I capitulate.
The next day, as I lumber slowly up the avenues near my Upper West Side home, my shoulders aching from 50 pounds of groceries, I repeat this phrase to myself: Each tiny step counts.
Elicia Brown’s column appears the second week of the month. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.