Sustainability for the Lazy

I am a lazy environmentalist. I care deeply about the environment and while I’m cheering on the efforts of Sustainable Princeton and other groups, I’m trying to find ways to fit my ideals into my busy lifestyle. A red rake propped in front of a white hammock on lawn area

So, for example, I have a compost pile but I do nothing to maintain it except add fruit and vegetable scraps and toss it with a pitchfork. There’s no bin, no effort to achieve just the right temperature or whatever it is you’re supposed to do with the darned thing.  It’s just a big lumpy pile.

But there’s no better example of my family’s lazy approach to the sustainable cause than our lawn. We don’t use chemicals partly because we’re against putting chemicals into the environment and partly because we simply can’t be bothered putting that much effort into our lawn. There are a dozen things we’d rather do than spend time worrying about dandelions.

My problem is only partly that I’m lazy. Sure, I dream about lying on the couch all day but I never seem to make it there.  Like most people in Princeton – I’m crazy busy keeping all those balls in the air as a teacher, a writer and a mother. My husband and I spend our days working, driving kids around, shopping, cleaning, and did I mention driving kids around? We can’t be bothered with lawn care. We can barely get the laundry done.

I think here’s room at the table for both the environmental couch potatoes – those who have the ideals but have no energy to spare and the full-fledged activists who are doing such a good job leading the cause. Even the laziest of us, myself included, can do things like bring bags to the grocery store (see Sustainable Princeton’s BYOBag Campaign) or join the food waste collection program. There are numerous other ways to get involved for those who hunger for more.

I am here to say that you can be lazy and still be an environmentalist.  I am the last person who can lecture anyone on the right way to do things but I can share my own struggles and occasionally offer advice from people who know how to do things the non-lazy way. I’m pretty sure there’s more to this composting thing than tossing the pile with a pitchfork, for example.  I’ll share what I’ve learned about ways we can all do our part and hopefully still find time for that elusive nap on the couch. Hey, we can dream, can’t we?



Nurturing Nature by Letting the Lawn Go

I live under a great old oak tree. Roughly 80 feet tall, it towers between Snowden Lane and Leavitt Lane. A large oak tree near a wood fence in back yard area

My large tree is by no means the only one in the area. There is a small forest of oak, maple, and coniferous pine and spruce trees in this area that extends between Hamilton and Franklin Streets.

My oak tree dominates my backyard. It provides shade for my house and yard in summer. In autumn, acorns and leaves drop into the yard and provide food for the squirrels, insects, spiders, and all the fungi and bacteria that live in the soil. During storms, and in winter, tree limbs and branches may fall, but if I have trimmed the tree properly, they shouldn’t fall on me!

When I first moved in, ten years ago, I tried to grow turf grass in my backyard. Having little success, I eventually realized the giant oak casts too much shade to allow a conventional grass lawn to thrive. In addition, the roots from the trees capture rain water and soil nutrients. All this means that grass will not grow without a great deal of effort to artificially add water and fertilizer. Watering the lawn is expensive and an unnecessary use of precious drinking water. Chemical fertilizers can also be expensive, and can take significant energy to manufacture, transport and apply. There are also concerns about runoff from artificially-fertilized areas entering the water supply.

So I began to accept the obvious fact that I live in a forest, and turf grass does not thrive in such a location. I now truly realize that my backyard is part of the local ecosystem, and that I need to live with the natural environment as it is supposed to be, and not resist the force of nature. Princeton is part of the temperate northeastern deciduous forest, and would be again if humans did not struggle relentlessly to maintain roads, houses, and grass lawns.

I strongly believe that, in Princeton, sustainability means that our backyards should be managed in ways that coexist with the forest. In my view, successfully embracing sustainability requires me, and others to live with nature, and not to try to subdue it or change it.