Black and Blue Makes Green
Broad and sweeping, but never changing, environmental messages first appeared on 3rd grade science folders. The phrases pleaded to save elephants and whales. Without support from the system, these gigantic requests were battered and beaten down until they existed only as my Peace Corps volunteer phrases. “Reuse plastic bags. Say 'no' to straws.” Their impact slipped away slowly like the gray water running into the lake. Global became local. Local became personal.
As a child, I never paid much attention to my father’s comments, or what I considered complaints, regarding development as intrusion. I spent ten years in Guatemala working on development projects in education believing that I had the baseline on “good”, especially the “common” one. I had to be stopped by protesters blocking buses on Guatemalan roads to pay attention to my father pounding “No Mowing” signs into the ditch. His is a local attempt to resist the mindset of investors who name invasion as exploration.
I returned home to acres amid large scale chicken operations, revving gravel trucks and lumbering agricultural machinery in constant motion around me. Not actively farming implies a lesser identity and a washing hands of current practices. Unfortunately, in practice, those qualifiers occupied reduced space, barely seen but written warnings on the plastic tubs and bottles. Those warnings were words supposedly for the oversensitive like the microaggressions that overstress. They were minute. So were the particles acidifying the air that stung my nose on a windy day. Both, somehow tried to claim, they were never here. Their effect was deeper than a reddening rash or sudden sneeze. Their push and rub bled red purpled blue.
Bruises spread, black and blue reminders of pain and healing like cut flowers at funerals. As a child, I once connected a final dandelion to the memory of my mother. It was out of place; no mourner would drape a casket in dandelions. It was out of time, my dad would have said. In each television frame, he could note all plants out of place and time. A final dandelion in April was absurd. But, soon perhaps it wouldn’t be. With each passing year, my mother's death and Earth Day somehow rose as one deep hurt together.
“What did they plant? What’s growing in our field?” my dad asked me this spring. These are really two separate answers. I respond to the second, though it took me considerable time to convince myself.
“Just grass. Weeds.” I replied using periods that were question marks. Driving fast the blurred color appeared like a whole field was planted, but walking through it revealed the green was only stripes. Remnants. Again, somehow the growth was both intentional and not. Any leaf or shoot in the field, the yard or ditch was something both because it belonged to official sacks and envelopes, or because it grew without us, belonging here before we did. With each passing year, belonging also became less certain. "Country", "rural", "preserved", we made claims to words we could hold on loosely as ownership on the land itself. Our property was agricultural land though there was not much culture to it.
The soil was on artificial life support, highly medicated. Each year the chemical sprayers arrived, and replayed the cycle of substance abuse. How could anything survive while using? How could the land weather withdrawal of not and the culture of chemical use around it? Instead, Dad described uncommon springs, both a way to remember the spring my mother died and to marginalize the reality of addiction's normal. New language around drunk driving no longer named incidents 'accidents'. There was nothing accidental about the altered state nor its impacts. The uncommon springs were not accidents and much more ‘un’ than anything else.
Undoing of cycles. Unpollinated flowers. Under average temperatures. Unforeseen winds and rains. Winds and rains that smacked against the Century Farm sign flipping and flopping, unhinged. Unrooted. That sign reminded those that read we were here. They’re the only ones who needed words to remind them. They were the only ones who needed print to interpret experience. The human cultures that were pushed. The animal cultures that were spread. The plant cultures that were burned and turned under year after year. They didn’t need letters stamped when bruises would do. Then, the chemicals were there.
A few days after the field was sprayed, my dog and I walked. I convinced myself it was fine. Mostly, because I saw no changes on the skin, as if the trucks were never here. The dandelions were mostly bright, if perhaps a slighter yellow.
For some, dandelions were metaphors for the universe, the sun and moon and most importantly stars dispersed in seed form across both light and dark sky. Like my mother, the dandelion was collateral damage of toxins and habits. We were treated and released from the system's care.
I gazed to the horizon. In spring sunshine free of gathering clouds, a separate green fluttered. A similar leaf twitter became my dad's description of a documentary about the passion, dedication and work of a young activist. She had at least, in her childhood, moved from the focus on broken animals to a broken system. Black turned blue turned green turned collective action to avoidance. Her critique was of a system that compensated just enough to declare green while staying in the black.
Finally, the field turned. The green stripes unnamed became the color of the unwanted. Their brown shade rose from deep earth, hurt and wounded long before the color thinned and spread. Earth worked over not worked up. Blunt force trauma. Land bruised. Along the field’s edge, I paused at the meaning of April dandelions in the ditch. What was our choice?
Year after year, blue and black made green. One April day when I woke from the anniversary of my mother's death into Earth Day, I feared I would not be able to find the edge between the bright treated cemetery grass and modified field cornstalks. Death's blanket will be green pulled up and over the driest disappearing shade of brown. Although out of place, this lonely plot was our only space to preserve a memory. Wounds unseen, don't have to exist.