That Little Voice in My Head

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather

I left my house the other night. Yup, it
was a dangerous thing to do. ‘Cuz the voice that talks inside my head
constantly gets just a little crazy when I’m out in the big scary world.
Kind of like Travis Trip from the movie “Taxi Driver” but without the
guns.

I did my “All You Can Eat Gardening” talk at a meeting of
the Quinte Master Gardeners. It was kind of scary, them being “Master”
gardeners and all, but I’m always up for a challenge. They meet in
Belleville where I lived for a few years in my late teens. It’s about a
45 minute drive from my house. To get there I had to drive on Highway
401. This is Canada’s busiest highway and ranks up there with any in the
U.S. in terms of traffic volume. When I got on the highway at about 6
pm I couldn’t believe the number of big trucks. That stretch of highway
runs between two of Canada’s biggest cities, Toronto and Montreal, and
the volume of truck traffic is staggering. The fact that most of what
they’re hauling isn’t on rail cars is ludicrous, but the world being
what it is I must accept this.

Some
truckers like to drive at night because there is less traffic, which
means that what you see is just an endless stream of trucks, burning
diesel fuel, getting 5 miles to the gallon, hauling truckload after
truckload of “stuff,’ much of which is crap that’s going to end up in
stores that people are going to buy. Mind-boggling volumes of crap. Most
of it made in other countries. Much of it which will just end up in
landfills. I think of this highway and then I multiply it by all the
other highways in Canada, and North America, and the world and I wonder
how it’s possible. Is it just me or is this really depressing? This mad
dash to oblivion.

Once
I got to Belleville I had to drive past a Procter & Gamble plant.
After high school I was accepted to university (which only cost about
$1,000/year in 1978!) but I wasn’t motivated or focused and so I moved
with my parents to Belleville. I got a job loading trucks at a warehouse
but it wasn’t long before I figured out that the job wasn’t for me and I
went back to school. It was during this time that I applied at this
particular Proctor & Gamble plant where they make Pampers. I really
wanted the job. They paid well and at the age of 18 it sounded kind of
cool. In those days P&G wanted lifetime employees. Really … remember
the days when companies actually wanted employees to hang around? It
was a factory job and I had to get through 3 interviews. The final
interview included some line workers. And they caught me. They used
their little interviewing strategies and eventually they got me to say
“…if I ever go back to school.” As soon as I said it I knew it was game
over. The last thing they wanted was to hire an employee who planned to
leave to go back to school. They wanted people who were going to make
Pampers until they dropped dead. And good for them. Their system worked.
I didn’t belong there.

It’s funny how things work out. I went to
back to school, had some different jobs, had kids, and used cloth
diapers. By the time my first daughter was born I had started looking at
things like paper diapers and wondering  if we should  be cutting down
trees to make these one-time use disposable diapers. Michelle bought two
dozen of the flat cloth diapers. The kind that you fasten with diaper
pins and cover with rubber pants. They worked great and after using them
for both of our children we used them as rags. At around that time I
discovered that it’s technically illegal to send human waste to
landfills, but apparently everyone does it, so must be OK. Procter &
Gamble began running ads that showed a diaper going through a
metamorphosis and ending up as compost. They had set up one
demonstration factory somewhere that was doing this to make parents feel
better about what COULD be done, but basically no one else was doing
it. And to think that I just about worked for the “enemy.” I often
wonder if I’d got that job if I’d have used their product. Or really,
how long I would have lasted there.

When
we moved to our little piece of paradise 14 years ago I still had some
clients in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and so every 6 weeks or so I
drove the 401 into the city and often drove home with this non-stop
parade of planet-destroying trucks. And I was conflicted. I had moved
off the grid to reduce my impact on the planet, but found myself 
driving way more than I probably did when I lived in the city. It was
only every 6 or 8 weeks and it was just a Honda Civic, but it was
spewing CO2 into the air regardless. I could rationalize it all I
wanted, but I was a hyrocrite. So we made the decision to forego that
income and do the right thing and try to eek out a living from here. And
it’s hard. Our already meager income shrunk even further. But my soul
is no longer as conflicted. I’m more at peace with myself. I still
drive, but way less. Hardly ever sometimes. And it’s awesome.

So
after days of freezing rain and crappy roads I hadn’t really left the
house for about a week. And then there I was, on the 401, at night, with
all of those trucks, carrying stuff I can’t afford to buy because I got
off the treadmill. I found myself slipping back into that consumer mode
of thinking…. “How can I make more money?” “I’ve got to get me a bigger
piece of the pie everyone out here is chasing.” “I NEED more money!”

After
my gardening talk I drove back home. It was cold outside, but the house
was warm thanks to the fire in the woodstove. The fire is powered by
wood that I cut and carried and split and loaded. And the lights in the
house were on, powered by solar panels and a wind turbine that I put up
when I was able to afford them. And the fridge and freezer were whirring
away using solar- and wind-powered electricity. My bookshelves are full
of books (mostly secondhand) that I’ll be reading for years to come.
Once I am home that crazy voice in my head starts to subside. The next
morning I look out at my frozen fields that are covered in snow. Under
the blanket of snow are about 12,000 heads of garlic that will burst up
through the snow in the spring ready to grow and be sold. And the
raspberry and blueberries are buried beneath the snow, but they’re going
to be awesome this year. The gardens are bigger than ever ready to
start planting for our CSA. We hope to convince 10 or 12 families to
join our CSA this year. The income from the CSA might cover our taxes
and some basic expenses.

There will be no vacations. No new
vehicles. No contributions to retirement plans. No fine bottles of wine.
No hot tubs. No new hobbies.

There will also be way less crazy
voices talking inside my head. Surrounded by trees and ponds and clean
air and clean power and independence and fields that can grow food to
nurture strong bodies, the voice in my head returns to happy Cam. Why I
ever leave this place is beyond me.

Photo of Canadian flag
located alongside Hwy. 401 in Belleville by C. Löser (Own work)
[CC-BY-SA-2.0-de
(www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia
Commons

Photo of paper diaper courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For more information about Cam or his books, please visit www.cammather.com or www.aztext.com