By Francean Campbell-Rich - Writer, Artist, Christ's Church Cathedral
Published: May 2008
Related Topics: People
Down with the monster dryer! Up with the backyard clothesline! The wind and the sun are free. Compost winter and summer; plant a few herbs in a window. Some people grow worms in the cellar to make the best compost. Install a solar panel or two--and why not a few chickens near the back door? Don't kill the dandelions--they make good wine. In England, people buy dandelion seed. For that matter lots of things make good wine, except perhaps cigarette butts and bottle tops. Grow only things that can be eaten or at least serve a useful purpose. Bats and hummingbirds can keep your grounds mosquito-free, and mice won't find a house with two cats very healthy.
With most of these items, and many more, I am on familiar terms, if not outright eccentric.
My maternal grandfather was a country doctor who practiced in the city and had his office and laboratory at home. We were expected to identify correctly every growing thing including a 'carrot gone to seed'. All of which may or may not be relevant now in west central Hamilton, with the single exception of rain barrels. I have three, with a fourth soon to be installed.
I had craved a rain barrel from the day I bought this century-plus cottage with a large garden, but had been unsuccessful, until finally, in desperation, I took a simple step on my own; found a rain barrel in five minutes--and not a minute too soon. My water bill had skyrocketed into three figures.
Even an early rain barrel memory had not dampened my ardour: When I was four, I had found a robin's nest with four eggs in it, showed it to my older sister, and in my excitement had crushed the eggs in the palm of my hand. My sister, furious, had dunked my head in the rain barrel as punishment.
Now, of course, all things natural, organic, essential, polyunsaturated, eco-friendly, locally grown and socially responsible are very important indeed, with water looming on the horizon as potentially more expensive than single malt scotch or aviation fuel.
For those of us who have lived long enough, nothing of this is new. The Second World War thrust change upon us difficult even to imagine, let alone recall. From the common everyday discipline of the ration book, the nine o'clock radio newscasts from overseas, the dreaded arrival of a telegram, the simple fact of living, working, not for oneself but for another--the other--the ones in the 'foxhole' from which it was said 'there were no atheists'. And when it was over, one saw the gaunt but relieved faces of internees, freed parents from far eastern prison camps, returning to homelands, with their children safe, and healthy.
If we are nowhere near those conditions right now, we could be in trouble; others are, and we pray for them in our intercessions. The scriptures talk about rain frequently--poetically and spiritually, as a gift: Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad... Ps.68.9, and Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving... He covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, and makes grass grow on the hills. Ps.147 But of water, the scriptures abound with references, countless times, as though with life itself, as indeed it is.
Like the Earth Hour of recent night, my rain barrel project may appear to amount to little more than symbol and good intentions. Last summer's drought, and my own lethargy, took a toll. I am determined to make a better job of it this summer. It takes ten trips with the watering can front and back of the house, every day or two, depending on the weather, to water the vegetables, the currants, and the young fruit trees. But there is no lawn, no noisy, polluting motors at work, no pesticides--just lovely soft rain water from the roof to the barrels, with a bit of oil on the surface to keep mosquitoes at bay. And I get no complaints about the wild look of my grounds--at least, not yet.
It is tempting to explore the old concrete covered cistern in the cellar that must have sustained the stalwart family that once dwelt in this cottage, but I'm uneasy as to what I might find secreted in it. It is also tempting, since virtually all waste listed by the city's Waste Management authority is reused, recycled, or composted, to request a refund of some of my property taxes, proportionate to the blue and green containers supplied but infrequently required.
My cousin Margann, who lives in Kingston, was so pleased by the rain barrel that I took to her for Christmas that she asked for another, and I took her another. My source of barrels is secret and carefully guarded, but if any of my fellow Anglican diocesan parishioners, upon application, is interested in acquiring one, kindly call the Cathedral and leave a message for me.