Daily I wage a holy war on trash with my fifth-grade students. Daily I weaken under the barrage of shattered pencils and crayon stubs, sunflower seeds and wads of gum. Recently I came upon a casualty of composition paper, neatly footprinted. I waved it for all to see. “You’ve been telling me how terrible it is they are cutting down the rain forests. And here you throw unused paper on the floor and walk all over it!” I stalk to the blackboard.
WASTED PAPER=LESS OXYGEN=SUFFOCATION OF YOU AND ME
As I turn back to my class the faces of denial rise like a wall. I fire off a parting shot, “The destruction of the rainforests is right here in my hand. You are the source of it, and you are the ones to pay.” Mercifully the 3:00 bell rings. My audience flees.
As I collapse at my desk, Shakyamuni winks out at me from the debris of lesson plans, ungraded papers and office memos. I’ve been keeping Dharma Gaia close at hand these last weeks, as much for the cover, with that serene face framed in the roots of the banyan tree, as for the contents. In the suddenly vacated room, I open it now, as a believer would a Bible, trusting the relevant passage will come to hand. And so it does, in Joanna Macy’s “The Greening of the Self.”
One of the things I like best about the green self, the ecological self that is arising in our time, is that it is making moral exhortation irrelevant. Sermonizing is both boring and ineffective.
As I have just proven. Still not green enough.
Are my “moral exhortations” another form of litter, just as doomsday pronouncements of nuclear holocaust were a holocaust themselves? Blamed, frightened, we run away like sermonized students tearing out of the room at the bell.
The message clearly needs another medium. I pick up Dharma Gaia, flip forward to Patricia Donegan’s “Haiku and the Ecotastrophe,” which has been keeping my leaves moist in these last burn-out weeks before the summer vacation. A wonderful alternative to sermons, Donegan offers haiku—succinct and direct, closing the gap between observer and observed.
On the winter river
a sheet of newspaper
Donegan Quotes Basho:
If you want to learn about the pine, become the pine; if you want to learn about the bamboo, go to the bamboo.
I would add, “If you want to learn about trash (or any aspect of environmental abuse) become trash.” Donegan expands Basho’s world from plum blossoms and fleas to include everything in our experience. “Writing the haiku of the 1990s, we can include . . . all of nature, including the pollution, razed rain forests and oil spills—all the apparent realities of our world. . . . By including it all, we keep an awareness and connection to nature.”
I put away my Dharma Gaia, straighten up my desk and prepare to leave. Before turning out the lights I survey the room: still the same wilderness of broken pencils and discarded compositions. Yet it has an order, a rightness, a clarity of expression of . . . something. What is that something?
On the classroom floor
paper footprints left behind—
laughter of summer.
Continue reading: “A SENSE OF PLACE” by Reed Hamilton
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