Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Sustainable Christmas. Vermont folk tale.

Sustainable Christmas - a Vermont folk tale 

by Bernie Paquette

The young boy of nearly twelve years of age reached into his pocket to count the savings from his days' work. Nearly three dollars, not bad he thought, for an afternoon of raking leaves, weeding a marigold bed, and listening to old man Jones talk endlessly about farming and the hard work entailed in working and sustaining the land.

He wondered where the reminiscent neighbor had farmed, given his city yard. The small lot hosted many wildflowers, as well as annuals, a hedge of lilacs as purple as his teenage sister’s bedroom walls, and a cherry tree which in spring offered tart yet slightly sweet cherries-if you beat the chipmunk to them. The elderly man assured the boy that the hundreds of species planted in his yard, especially the native plants, were beneficial to wildlife and people alike. All this crammed into less than one acre. 

The evergreens - the cedar hedge, the patches of yew, the hemlock scattered over the bank and along the Centennial Brook running beyond the house, and a few blue spruce, scotch pine, along with the oak,  white and river birch,  not only provided food for birds, chipmunks, squirrels, and other creatures, but also provided accommodating and sustainable homes for them.

He used that word 'sustainable' a lot. Like when he bragged about his raised bed gardens and his endless efforts of amending soil using homegrown compost.  A few times a week the young boy would ride his bicycle to Starbucks to collect used coffee grounds, and cart them back in a milk crate attached to the back of his bike.  Watching the old man mix the grounds with sand was like watching his (the boy's) mom mix dough for pie crust.

His hands reached into the mix up to his forearms quickly blending the ingredients making the soil dark and loamy looking. Next, he dumped the mixture on top of old editions of The Other Paper and cardboard within an empty raised bed. Once the bed was full, the mixture set for a year while organisms decomposed the organic matter, helping to transform nutrients into minerals plants could use, and improving soil structure for less compaction and better air and water movement. Mom makes pies; Mr. Jones helps make a living ecosystem to grow flowers and food.

By December, the young man now twelve years old had acquired a sense of duty, a moral compass of sorts, to live sustainably.  His mentor had created a moral context for action. It was too cold to amend soil; the ground was nearly frozen. Reaching once again into his pocket to count his savings, now a robust forty-five dollars, he considered buying a real Christmas tree for his mentor.

Arriving at the Christmas tree stand, he heard the ringing bell of a Salvation Army volunteer sitting placidly on a chair next to a red bucket for holding donations. This image framed the decision of how to make his earnings most sustainable - into a larger context. His savings would not purchase a renewable resource (Christmas tree); instead, he would support a living ecosystem of sorts - the Salvation Army and its beneficiaries.

On the way home, the young man spotted a scotch-pine tree branch with a pine-cone attached, lying on the ground.

The old man was delighted with the gift, placing it on his kitchen window, expressing the joy this Christmas tree conveyed to him. 

                                                                 Merry Christmas!

Other relevant reading.
What does Sustainability mean?  

From Growth Capitalism to Sustainable Capitalism: The Next 20 Years of Sustainable Investing.

Institute for Sustainable Communities. 

UVM Office of Sustainability 

Shelburne Farms  Educating for a Sustainable Future. 


  1. Great story. Merry Christmas Bernie.

  2. oh that is a wonderful tale... a merry Christmas to you, Bernie

  3. A Wonderful Story! I read it out loud to Mom, she said, it is a wonder, well written story, that sounds very familiar. I love the little tidbits of connection to the family. I definitely did not get any literature skills.
    Merry Christmas Bernie.