in the old folk tale Chicken Little, an acorn falls on the head of a naive and gullible chicken, who jumps to the conclusion that the sky is falling. in a tizzy, she runs about the town shouting about imminent disaster, and whips the populace into mass hysteria…which an unscrupulous fox uses to manipulate the chicken and her fellow citizens to his own benefit. in other words, he eats them.
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it has come to my attention that i am a colossal, erm, fake.

i started the month – and the fresh new year – full of good, fine intentions. everything was coming up green. we were going to become more healthy hereabouts at the crib, and more earth-friendly, too. we were going to make a difference in our own lives and the world’s by eating less meat and more local foods, buying nothing that we didn’t actually, genuinely need (say, um, a helmet for Oscar’s premier venture on bob skates), using up what lurks in our freezer, and walking and generally exercising more. plus i was going to start a clothing exchange for kids’ stuff, or at least in my own mind, i was…i don’t think that plan ever made it to the public stage. but i was going to harness the power of teh internets, see, and bring people together and, you know, divide loaves and fishes and generally create a rainbow connection that would result in global harmony, a halt to climate change, and thinner thighs.

we are now approaching the end of month one of this fine venture. the community-building and clothing-exchanging end of the plan never even got verbalized properly. the exercycle saw a few minutes’ work but is now gathering dust once more. we flew to England and back, burning loads of jet fuel for half-empty planes both ways, and ate nothing but poor dead cows and lambs encased in pastry the entire time we were there. our deep freeze did get divested of some of its long-term inhabitants (yesterday’s near-province-wide power outage almost got them all out, and for good) and we have managed to eat the majority of the vegetables we bought this month, but i’ve also personally consumed about three boxes of leftover Christmas chocolates. Dave’s started leaving all the lights on again. yeh yeh. it ain’t easy being green.

and sometimes, with these kicks of better living i go on sporadically, i start to feel like the boy who cried wolf…shouting out “getting healthy! going greener!” and then, um, sitting down on my squishy butt and opening another bag of individually plastic-wrapped candies made out of pesticides and corn syrup. and worse, i begin to suspect that my green guilt and half-hearted efforts are the cornerstone of something even darker: that every time i fail to put my money where my mouth is i not only condone the illogic of rampant consumerism and blind, short-term societal self-satisfaction, but feed it and benefit from it like the fox in Chicken Little. every time i give in, i add to the chorus of cynical disbelief. every time i give up, i weigh in on the side of how hard it is to really be green, to live an earth-friendly life in this day and age. so i not only get to then enjoy the fruits of my unsustainable lifestyle whilst feeling virtuous for having made such a noble effort, but i lend my virtual voice to the general idea that this is all just to big and too hard for any of us to make a difference about, and that trying is just running around like Henny Penny, squawking foolishly.

but i do not believe that. and i do not want to give up. and so, with each new month, i will start again…Sisyphus pushing uphill, perhaps…but every so often, i may gain ground. and dear readers, you will keep me honest, whether you care about my personal Chicken Little saga or not. just because you’re there. and because i would hate for you to think i was a manipulative fake, even more than i hate to, erm, admit it to myself occasionally.
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one of the reasons i think i’m attracted to flights of fancy about my cyclically impending personal green revolutions is that i spent a great deal of my childhood in a family deeply governed by the Protestant work ethic and the scarcity mentality of the Great Depression. in my home, saving mattered. money was hard to save because it was hard to come by, but food and resources were carefully planned and accounted for, time was well used, and the act of making something “go a little further” was inculcated in me as an inherent pleasure more delightful than sunshine. we were frugal in a way that would have made every stereotypical Scottish ancestor in our clan lineage just bust with pride. saving was not just economic, it was moral. and waste was a source of shame that luckily, given our financial limitations, my mother and i simply did not have to stagger under in the way that others more burdened by excess did.

it does not take a psychologist to see how, in my banal middle-class adulthood, a part of me thrills to the idea of tightening my bootstraps and taking on the fine (ie. moral) challenge of reducing waste on all fronts, both commercial and environmental. i’m deeply attracted to the romance of scarcity, you see. when i was a kid i used to put myself to sleep imagining that i was trapped on a boat for a year and had to creatively, cheaply, and nutritiously stock the pantry with just the right number of tin cans. i like to imagine if any lard-ass North American can survive the projected apocalypses of oil crashing and seas rising…well, it’s gotta be me, right? i could make a case of beans last a year and Like It, at least in my own addled mind.

but a few things happened over the past week or so to point out to me what a crock of shit that little childhood hangover is. first, we spent three days last week in York, England. beautiful, historical, totally flooded York. i’ve never been witness to a flood before, not in person. and it struck me, standing on a stone bridge abutted by an 800-ish year old tower, well aware from my earlier trip through the Yorkminster crypts that the street level of the town has actually risen by at least six feet over the last millenium or two, that the fact that the water was completely covering the park benches on the riverbank really couldn’t be a good sign. and i noted that i don’t know how to swim. especially in sewage.

my survivalist daydreams were further disrupted yesterday when 90% of my province lost power for a couple of hours in the wake of an ice storm. i was at work. it was 12:0-something-or-other and i was really getting hungry and preparing to head to the campus cafeteria for pizza when the lights went out. by the time i dug my way out from the sudden blackout in the windowless, airless hole that is my office, it became clear that the cafeterias had, erm, shut. so i thought gamely, hell, i’ll drive to the sandwich shop! they have cold food! (note, i did not consider walking. but it was icy, so i excuse myself). Dave & i met up, got in the car, and drove to where the campus exits onto one of Charlottetown’s main arteries, which is still only a two-lane stree…normally pretty scantily populated by traffic at lunchtime. but yesterday, the whole city was on the move. lines of traffic snaked both ways as far as the eye could see, half the population piled into cars, aimlessly and lunchlessly steering towards where they hoped food might be. but nearly everything had closed and locked its doors, cold food or not…because all the cash registers are electronic.

it was like an eerie vision of a future i hope never comes. never before have i had hammered home to me how clearly dependent we all are on the constructions and fictions that make up this society…all of us like soft helpless sheep, driving in our little tin cans, using gas, money in our pockets…totally unable to feed ourselves as we steer towards the empty promise of open doors and possible hamburgers, unattainable.

i went home and ate rice chips and cheese, and watered my plants, and realized how odd it really is to be growing things in my home that i cannot eat.  because those plastic cards in my wallet?  untasty.