By Jennifer Evans
I've been coming to CMA campouts for some years now, and I am always amazed at the lengths people will go to bring creature comforts into the wilderness with them. I have also been surprised at the amount of refuse and garbage that a group of Pagans can produce. Perhaps I wore my expectations on my sleeve with my heart, looked at CMA through rose colored glasses, but I really did think that a Pagan campout would be... Cleaner.
I'm older now than I was then, and I've seen a lot and grown in wisdom (Or at least I've read more books) and in tact. I realize, now, that not everyone knows how to live gently on the land, how to minimize their impact upon the earth. To that end, I present my take on the "Leave No Trace" ideal.
For me, Leave No Trace starts at home, in the shopping center, and at
the Farmer's Market. It begins with you, the consumer, making
choices about the products you purchase. Ask yourself some basic
questions: How is it packaged? Is it recyclable? What is the cost
per unit? How many times can I re-use this item? Can I split this
up into several smaller packages, store or freeze the extra until needed?
Each person, as an individual, must decide for themselves what are acceptable answers, what cost/benefit model they are most comfortable using.
A few good guidelines are, however, to buy in bulk and repackage. For items that don't freeze or keep well, are there others in your area that could go together to purchase a large quantity and split it up?
Use your own re-usable containers. Goodwill, thrift stores, and yard sales are wonderful places to get re-usable containers. Re-sealable jars with rubber gaskets are fabulous to keep dry staples in, like flour, beans, rice, pasta, herbs and seasonings. Use paper labels to clearly denote the contents (it is a bad thing to reach for turmeric and get curry powder instead) along with the date purchased (some things do go bad over time.)
Don't be afraid to ask questions. Go to your local thrift store, ask the shop clerk to keep an eye out for useful items and set them aside for you. The worst they'll do is say no. Ask the Farmer's Market to keep you in mind if they have a really great deal on bulk produce.
Hot water and soap don't hurt. Instead of single use items, switch to items that can be cleaned after use. No more paper plates, plastic cups, paper towels, or disposable anything. Buy higher quality items and wash them when they're dirty.
Learn to can and preserve. Honest, it's not hard. For jams and jellies, puree the fruit, add sugar, stick in a jar, use a new inner lid, reuse the outer rim part, and pressure seal. (Ok, that last bit requires special equipment, but, again, get a group together, and do all you’re canning at once. Everyone chips in, no-one does all the work and you get tons of yummy veggies, jams, preserves and canned goodies for later.) All in re-usable jars that you got for a great price at a yard sale. Super easy, yes?
As for camping, it's even easier to live gently. You're not going to be concerned overmuch with your long-term impact upon the area, because you aren't going to make any lasting impact. Here's the simplest set of rules:
If you bring it in, Take It Out.
If you're using reusable containers, then they by definition aren't garbage, and don't need to be thrown away. You'll want to keep them, so you'll take them home, wash them, and use them again, and again, and again. You will find it easiest in some cases to use non- reusable containers when camping. In this case, rule two comes into play. Think small. Repackage in as small of a container as you can find, and try to find recyclable packaging. Aluminum foil works fine, and can be recycled easily, along with your aluminum cans. Instead of paper towels, use terry cloth towels (small washcloths work great for camping. Take a Ziploc bag --reusable, did you know?-- soak a washcloth in a ten percent bleach solution, stick in the baggie. Voila, instant Clorox wipes, and they're reusable!)
When you're selecting the major items you will bring with you to the campout, remember that you'll be applying the two rules to your selections. Tents, chairs, tables, rugs, coolers and awnings are NOT disposable, single use items! There should be no reason for you to leave these items behind when you leave CMA. If an item breaks, return it to the store you purchased it at, or recycle it appropriately. Old coolers become planters, bits of tent become fodder for some yard art.
As for tent size: Bigger is not necessarily better. A couple camping out really do not need a twelve person tent. At the end of the next campout, look at the area you laid your tent out in. The smashed down vegetation is your footprint. Ask yourself: Am I a Bigfoot? While you do not have to force yourself to fit into a single person earth pimple, conspicuous consumption and one upmanship in tent city *is* alive and well. Of course, if you already have a large, palatial tent with all the fixins', by all means, don't add to the consumerist frenzy by replacing it before it dies a horrid drippy leaky death! Let your tent serve you well, and be well patched before you retire it. And replace it with a smaller, cozier model.
As my final note on living gently on the land, and as a bit of advice for making your camping experience the best it can be, I'd like to advocate communal camping. Create your own family, for a week or longer, living together only twice a year. Experiment with group meals, camp decorations, and the fun of sharing. Start an email list to keep in touch with your camp family, and plan your event together. Large meals are easier if all you, personally, have to keep up with is five pounds of red potatoes and a yellow onion. Volunteer to cook a meal for your camp, or if you can only cook cinders, to wash up for your camp. Buy in bulk and share with your camp. You'll never believe how fast a case of wine can disappear when there are fifteen adults pitching in. Camping en famillia means that there's always someone around to help pull pencil cactus out of your legs, or hold your hair while you, well, you know.
Live gently on the land, and the land will support you for years to come. Treat Spirit Haven as the place you come home to, not the place you leave behind, and She will be there for you. I truly believe that by living with more care for our long and short term impact upon the earth we will find more caring, empathy, and love for our entire world and the people in it than we have ever found before. The only place to go is home.