The Red Wheelbarrow April 26, 2011
“When you blame others, you give up your power to change.”— Douglas Adams
“You know, I think if people stay somewhere long enough – even white people – the spirits will begin to speak to them. It’s the power of the spirits coming from the land. The spirits and the old powers aren’t lost, they just need people to be around long enough and the spirits will begin to influence them.” — Crow elder
This is the “before the bugs” time of spring here in Durham, NC. The leaves are full and green on all of the trees, and lawns have mostly been mowed for the first time. The rains have kept the pollen count down. My neighbors and I were lucky with the recent storms, just one tree down, falling into the street. Now with one less large oak tree in the neighborhood and much more sun reaching the ground, I am thinking of planting tomatoes for the first time in years.
Meanwhile, I have been working in schools throughout my region and even spent last week at the coast, watching the moon rise most nights, an orange ball, coming up on the eastern rim of the Atlantic Ocean. It has been good, this morning, to spend some time working in my yard with my new red wheelbarrow.
My work monitoring single-use plastic continues. Several weeks ago I had the great pleasure of working with the Marine Ecology Class at Fuquay-Varina High School making the ocean food web out of discarded single-use plastic. First, we cleaned the creek next to the school of all of the plastic detritus that had blown over the fence next to the parking lot. The students also brought in all of the throw-away plastic they had used in their homes for a week. Students selected animals from the ocean food web, covering the list from whales at the top to plankton at the bottom and made them out of this collected plastic. We hung this food web made entirely of cast off plastic up for science night. The students entitled it “Killer Plastic.” Among many wonderful creatures you can see the ethereal jelly fish made out of plastic bags floating top left.
Last week I got to stay in a small motel right across the road from the Atlantic Ocean while I did a residency with the students of Grandy Primary School in Camden, North Carolina. The weather was warm and every day after work I took my green folding chair down to the beach. Each afternoon I walked over the small dune which separated the ocean from the road and read my book, watched the birds and surfers, dug my feet in the sand, and in general felt very lucky. This was a short walk, and each day it was the same walk, yet the plastic I found along the beach and on the path through the dunes was plentiful and continually arriving. Here is the thing about this plastic. It was not hard to find. I only picked it up as I walked back and forth. The beach is big. It looks empty of this stuff. But it is not. I constantly found plastic bottles and plastic bags, both the kind from grocery stores and the clear looking things around snacks, straws, whatever. And then there are the caps and old faded balloons and bits and pieces of things. More of the stuff that our marine wild life might swallow. A lot of it gets thrown in the trash can beside the pathway over the dunes. Anything that doesn’t make it there gets swallowed by the ocean pretty quickly.
What happens to the stuff that gets swallowed by the ocean? Again–the ocean is very big, but still, this picture of a turtle to the right is always in my mind and one of the reasons why I pick up any loose plastic when I see it floating around or half buried in the sand. I am not the only one who does this; if you are reading this, you probably do it too.
Meanwhile, I live my life. Some days are easier than others. Always, my favorite times are simple ones. Today it has been how green my yard is, how damp and ready to grow things the soil has become. On a whim, I bought the red wheelbarrow pictured above a few weeks ago at a small hardware store out in the country. Did I buy it to care for my garden or for the nurturance of my soul? I would say it is a toss up. With this simple machine, a wheel attached to an inclined plane, I move compost to my garden, leaves to the compost, dirt here and there. Working in my yard nurtures me. Turning my compost, or digging in the actual garden where I turn the soil and find earthworms galore, I am happy. In my yard, I shift dirt about, weed and plant, plant and weed, listen to the birds sing, and wait for the hydrangeas to bloom. The world is big and we are all busy in it. Worms and a wheelbarrow bring me home. There are no chickens in my yard, but I do see an occasional white-tailed rabbit happy in the grass.
by William Carlos Williams
so much depends
upon a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white