As we get ready to give thanks, it’s interesting to ponder a holiday that is righteous in spirit but breaks down to gluttony and consumption. The recent onslaught of Hurricane Sandy has once again brought to the fore just how delicate a balance we humans have with nature. An author and sustainability leader who has been preaching about this for more than 40 decades is Joan Dye Gussow. Ms. Gussow has written several memoirs about growing food on the banks of the Hudson north of New York City and her (mis)adventures in leaving a smaller carbon footprint over her long life.
In Growing, Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life, and Vegetables, Ms. Gussow picks up where her last book (This Organic Life) left off: with the death of her garden-partner husband. Yet far from a sad tale, these essays are often laugh-out-loud funny, not to mention reminders of how much common sense our elders have. Ms. Gussow appreciates that human life is no more (nor less) precious than that of a tomato plant or a tenacious garden-raiding skunk. Her appreciation of the planet dates from “back in the day,” and she’s been warning about the perils of climate change for more years than many of her readers have been alive.
Anecdotal and only loosely forged into topic headings, each chapter can be enjoyed independent of the book or as a linear progression of a life where grief never gets in the way of tending to the earth and its bounty. In reading Growing, Older and listening to Ms. Gussow lecture in person, I am very moved by her message of less is more. (One essay, for example, speaks of ecotourism that basically comes in and destroys the very habitats that bring people to formerly far-flung locations around the globe.)
At a time when many in my own community are still suffering from great loss and people both inside the United States and around the world are not reaping in a bounty, it’s good to remember that giving thanks is only a token gesture if we don’t sacrifice in order to make a better planet. Growing, Older is a book of reminder and renewal with ideas (and ideals) that stick in your mind long after reading. Reading this book literally may just change your life.