TL;DR: What we need is not a NEW way of living, it's a return to the time before we were all dependent on plastic and planes; you can take inspiration from any fictional figure you like, but today I'm looking to my imaginary BFF, Anne of Green Gables; these tips are not silly they are totally legit.
Anne of Green Gables has been my hero and imaginary best friend for most of my life. I read her books about once a year. This year, I've escaped into them when I need some relief from feelings of stress and despair about the climate emergency.
Anne belongs to a time before people knew about climate change. It's a time before cars, before people used air travel to go on holidays, when girls owned three dresses and grew their own vegetables and preserved food out of season. Also, Anne is optimistic to the point of being over-idealistic. And she has a delightful, living, irreverent faith in God that keeps her centred in hard times. And she has great hair. And she marries a hot doctor. So, life inspiration.
As I read the books and reflect on what it was like to live on an island off the coast of Canada in 1900-ish, I'm noticing so many ways that Anne makes a low-carbon life seem romantic. The thing is, low-impact living is not a radically new way of doing things. It's the way people have lived for most of history. It's an old way. Vintage, baby!
Here are some of the ways Anne inspires me with her life:
1. She walks everywhere.
“Why can’t we walk?” suggested Anne. “If we go straight back through the woods we’ll strike the West Grafton road not far from the Kimball place. I was through that way last winter and I know the road. It’s no more than four miles..."
No more than four miles! That's almost 6.5 kilometres, but Anne has no issue going that far on foot to make it to a tea party. She bloody loves a good walk (regular shoe or snowshoe). Anne's family doesn't get a car until 1917, and even then it's hard to see the point as the pace of traffic, on the narrow roads of Prince Edward Island, is still set by horse-drawn carriages anyway. No complaints heard from Anne.
2. She understands that true wealth isn't material.
"“Did you see all the diamonds those ladies wore?” sighed Jane. “They were simply dazzling. Wouldn’t you just love to be rich, girls?”“
We are rich,” said Anne staunchly. “Why, we have sixteen years to our credit, and we’re happy as queens, and we’ve all got imaginations, more or less. Look at that sea, girls—all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn’t enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds."
Yep. Words for an un-consumer to live by.
3. She's the master of biodegradable party decorations.
"A great blue bowlful of snowballs overflowed on the polished table. The shining black mantelpiece was heaped with roses and ferns. Every shelf of the what-not held a sheaf of bluebells; the dark corners on either side of the grate were lighted up with jars full of glowing crimson peonies, and the grate itself was aflame with yellow poppies. All this splendor and color, mingled with the sunshine falling through the honeysuckle vines at the windows in a leafy riot of dancing shadows over walls and floor, made of the usually dismal little room the veritable “bower” of Anne’s imagination, and even extorted a tribute of admiration from Marilla, who came in to criticize and remained to praise."
Those were the days - when you were having Extremely Important Company, you just walked outside and picked a heap of leaves and flowers to decorate the parlour. No plastic balloons or paper napkins in this house! As crazy as it seems to us now, Anne would have lived entirely without single-use items. She somehow managed to throw parties, do her shopping, preserve her food and survive her period without any plastic or throwaway stuff. And she looked like a queen doing it.
4. She's an eternal optimist, and she makes everybody around her feel optimistic too.
"Those who knew Anne best felt, without realizing that they felt it, that her greatest attraction was the aura of possibility surrounding her. . . the power of future development that was in her. She seemed to walk in an atmosphere of things about to happen."
In these dark days, the ability to bring sunshine into any situation is a gift. When despair gets me down I try to be more like Anne for the sake of others. Predictions are dire, but we don't really know what the future holds. There's no point dwelling on trouble until it comes. It might all turn out completely different than we imagined. Some days I imagine what it will be like if we manage to turn the climate crisis around and live in a regenerated environment with low-impact lifestyles. It's a really beautiful picture to meditate on.
5. She's in love with nature.
“What a nice month this November has been!” said Anne, who had never quite got over her childish habit of talking to herself. “November is usually such a disagreeable month . . . as if the year had suddenly found out that she was growing old and could do nothing but weep and fret over it. This year is growing old gracefully . . . just like a stately old lady who knows she can be charming even with gray hair and wrinkles. We’ve had lovely days and delicious twilights....How quiet the woods are today . . . not a murmur except that soft wind purring in the treetops! It sounds like surf on a faraway shore. How dear the woods are! You beautiful trees! I love every one of you as a friend.”
Anne would be horrified if she connected the dots on the way human indulgence destroys the natural environment. She was always conscious of being close to God when she was in nature, in full appreciation of the fact that it was created for his pleasure and glory, not just our use and abuse.
6. She asks for second-hand and home-made gifts on big occasions.
On the occasion of Anne's wedding:
""I'm going to give Anne two of my cotton warp spreads," [Mrs Lynde] resumed. "A tobacco-stripe one and an apple-leaf one. She tells me they're getting to be real fashionable again. Well, fashion or no fashion, I don't believe there's anything prettier for a spare-room bed than a nice apple-leaf spread, that's what. I must see about getting them bleached. I've had them sewed up in cotton bags ever since Thomas died, and no doubt they're an awful color. But there's a month yet, and dew-bleaching will work wonders."
Only a month! Marilla sighed and then said proudly:
"I'm giving Anne that half dozen braided rugs I have in the garret. I never supposed she'd want them—they're so old-fashioned, and nobody seems to want anything but hooked mats now. But she asked me for them—said she'd rather have them than anything else for her floors. They ARE pretty. I made them of the nicest rags, and braided them in stripes. It was such company these last few winters. And I'll make her enough blue plum preserve to stock her jam closet for a year.""
Old quilts that have been in storage for ten years? Rugs made of rags? A YEAR'S SUPPLY OF JAM? Let this be the inspiration for your Christmas list this year.
7. When she grows up, she runs a low-waste household.
""Anne's a good housekeeper," [Mrs Lynde] said to Marilla in the spare room the night of their arrival. "I've looked into her bread box and her scrap pail. I always judge a housekeeper by those, that's what. There's nothing in the pail that shouldn't have been thrown away, and no stale pieces in the bread box."
Waste is a swear word in our house. Wasting BREAD is bordering on sin. (We really like bread.) I like that Mrs Lynde's assessment captures two aspects of managing waste - don't let anything good go stale, and don't throw out anything that's still useable. You could practically print this quote out as a manifesto and stick it up near your bins.
What about you guys? Do you long to go back to the time of any fictional figures in particular? And what are your favourite climate-emergency-escaping books to read?
Love to you all. Be like Anne!