If you're like me, spring is the time of year when I dare to dream the largest, when the promise of renewal seeps from the outside in and anything seems possible. Many of these books are old favorites, some new to my bookshelf, but all speak to the ability of small actions to precipitate changes in our human and ecological communities. The environmental crisis is overwhelming, but in the words of the poet Antonio Marchado, we can begin where we stand and "make the road by walking."
Animal Vegetable Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
Barbara Kingsolver is better known for her fictional works such as the "Bean Trees" and the "Poisonwood Bible," but here she details the trials and triumphs of her family's year-long challenge to eat only what they buy from local farmers or grow themselves. Filled with witty commentary on the industrialized food system, humorous depictions of daily life, and mouth-watering recipes, this will get you in the mood to start your own garden, no matter how small.
"I don't know what rituals my kids will carry into adulthood, whether they'll grow up attached to homemade pizza on Friday nights, or the scent of peppers roasting over a fire, or what. I do know that flavors work their own ways under the skin, into the heart of longing. Where my kids are concerned I find myself hoping for the simplest things: that if someday they crave orchards where their kids can climb into the branches and steal apples, the world will have trees enough with arms to receive them."
A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
This book is a classic of the environmental conservation movement due to Leopold's definition of his land ethic: "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." As a natural historian and philosopher, Leopold observes the wildlife and forest ecosystem at his farm in Wisconsin, recording his observations on seasonal changes and animal behavior as only one deeply connected to the land could. After reading this you will want to go for a hike with your eyes wide open.
"We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes — something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunter's paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view."
Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken
In "Blessed Unrest," Hawken's describes what he calls "the largest movement in the world that no one saw coming." This movement, the compilation of all environmental and social justice organizations world-wide, is viewed as a human response to our destruction of the environment upon which we depend for survival. After all of the negative news we've received about the environment in the last decade, this book shows us a way forward that chooses unity over division and optimism over despair.
"Picture the collective presence of all human beings as an organism. Pervading that organism are intelligent actvities, humanity's immune response to resist and heal the effects of political corruption, economic disease, and ecological degradation ... the movement has three basic roots: environmental activism, social justice initiatives, and indigenous cultures' resistance to globalization, all of which have become intertwined."
The Boy who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
This true story is a sincere testament to ingenuity and the human spirit. Born to a poor farming family in Malawi and forced to drop out of secondary school, William hatches a plan to build a windmill that will supply his family with electricity. Against all odds he constructs his machine and changes forever the fate of his village.
"It was glorious light, and it was absolutely mine! I threw my hands in the air and screamed with joy. I began to laugh so hard I became dizzy. Dancling now by one arm with the bulb bring in my hand, I looked down at the eyes below- now wide in disbelief. Electric wind!" I shouted. "I told you I wasn't mad!" One by one, the crowd began to cheer. They raised their hands in the air, clapping and shouting, "Wachitabwina! Well done!"
Photo: amichan, cdrummbks, oneVillageInitiative, raiklEm (all Flickr)