A ROOM WITH A POINT OF VIEW
THREE BOOKS TO HELP YOU CELEBRATE (AND SAVE) THE PLANET
By SHAGORIKA EASWAR
When one of the world’s pre-eminent scientists mixes wisdom, wonderment and plenty of common sense in a back-to-basics guide to living well, it only makes sense to listen.
Diana Beresford-Kroeger has a double first in medical biochemistry and classical botany under her belt.
She did her Masters in plant hormones and frost resistance and her doctorate in molecular biology with a minor in radionuclear chemistry. In Canada, she continued her research with a diploma in experimental surgery and the focus of her work has been on hemodiulution, open heart surgery and biochemistry.
Beresford-Kroeger’s vision encompasses botany, biochemistry, aboriginal healing, traditional wisdom and Western medicine .
Living in a house she and her husband built in the middle of a large research garden of native plants and trees surrounded by 160 acres of forest south of Ottawa, she is as close to nature as one gets. And she believes in keeping things simple.
“The daily swirl of constant activity that we subject ourselves to steals our time,” she writes. “Time is our most precious possession. To give somebody your time is to give him or her part of that precious thing. You can only give such a gift by simplifying your life so you have time for yourself and more, again, to give away.”
Her tips are simple and easily implemented. Using sun-dried bee-balm in an herbal pillow to induce sweeter sleep, for instance.
Walking. Walking conditions both body and mind. It quickens the circulation, forcing the heart to pump more blood... Twenty minutes a day is all that’s necessary.
Onions. The longest oral memory of the onion being used as medicine comes from northern Canada, where the medicine men from the Cree Nation from the boreal forest system used wild chives...Today, the onion family, Alliaceae, is still good medicine, breathing sulphur to shield us from cancer.
Dealing with mildew. Airing is one answer. Clothes, bedclothes and all fabrics can be hung out on a clothesline in the direct sun for at least a full day. The next weapon in the kitchen arsenal against mildew is very cheap: baking soda or sodium bicarbonate... A wash of one tablespoon per litre of warm water will do the trick for cleaning walls, floors, refrigerators or any item that has become mouldy.
Good old baking soda even comes to the rescue of gardeners. Beresford-Kroeger suggests sprinkling some on bulbs before planting them in the fall. This, she says, de-scents them and squirrels can’t find them to dig them up. Having tried every remedy I heard of read about to foil the darn squirrels for years and having failed spectacularly to reach a state where I can face yet another chewed bulb with equanimity, I decide this one is worth trying.
Pesticides in foods. The most contaminated foods in supermarkets are non-organic potatoes, specially winter storage varieties, followed closely by apples, pears and plums.
I am reminded of the farmer we came across in an apple orchard in Himachal a few years ago. Admiring his crop of fruit-laden trees, and imagining it had something to do with being grown on Devbhoomi as Himachal is promoted, or at the very least, with old, traditional practices, I asked the farmer his secret.
“Poison,” he responded blithely. “Poison spray karte hain, didi (we spray poison, sister)”.
Her advice, again, is simple. Request your local grocery to stock more organic foods. “If more people request and buy clean food, the prices will go down. These consumer actions will also encourage further innovation to reduce spraying and chemical contamination in our food supply for everyone.
Beresford-Kroeger and her husband Christian put together three-quarters of a million seedlings and seeds of selected varieties that were in decline in Canada to give them away for free. The project turned into the biggest tree planting ever launched in Canada by a private individual.
Her tone is warm and chatty. While extolling the virtues of boiling water to get rid of debris, pathogenic bacteria and other contaminants, she sounds like your favourite aunt. “So learn how to boil water. It’s a simple way of being safe and sound. And when I visit, use it to make me a good cup of tea. Boil the kettle. Warm the tea pot. Add a spoon of loose tea for the pot and a spoon for every person who is drinking the tea. And for heaven’s sake, use a tea cosy. It’s the least I will expect.”
And yet, make no mistake. Saving the planet is serious business. And to do this, Beresford-Kroeger has come up with a bioplan. A blueprint for all connectivity of life in nature. “It is the fragile web that keeps each creature in balance with its neighbour...Doctors can treat disease, but there is no remedy for stupidity. It is stupid to pull nature apart and expect people to be healthy.”
The Sacred Balance was first published in 1997 and in this edition, David Suzuki re-examines our place in the natural world in light of environmental changes and advances in scientific knowledge.
Full disclosure: Suzuki is my hero, I grab every book of his, new or old, or as in this case, updated and expanded. His books provide insights and new ways of seeing our planet. Ways he says he himself learnt from the Aboriginal people who “do not believe that they end at their skin or fingertips. The Earth as mother is real to them”.
As simple and obvious a thought as “invisible and indivisible, air is a place without borders or owners, shared by all life on earth”. One shouldn’t have to read this sentence in a book to realize this fundamental truth, but I think of all the people in India who distance themselves from the air pollution in northern cities as something which is not their problem, or of Canadians who are the second most prolific users of water in the world, and believe the book should be mandatory reading for all.
Much of it does read like a textbook, line drawings included, but Suzuki draws readers in with quotes from ancient texts, living environmentalists as well as literature and poetry. So, John Donne and Leonardo Da Vinci, Sunderlal Bhaughuna, Vandana Shiva and Muhammad Yunus make an appearance.
As we celebrate Earth Day, take a few moments to implement small changes Suzuki lists that we can take to modify our lifestyle that are good for our health and that of the planet. Among them:
Ask, “Do I really need this?” before purchasing an item.
Use both sides of sheets of paper.
Make garbage-free lunches for your children.
He places the conflict over issues such as clearcut logging, mega dams and chemical pollution, etc., in perspective.
Each side demonizes the other so that whatever the outcome, there is always a loser... Under these conditions, the choice becomes spotted owls or loggers, jobs or parks, the environment or the economy. But if we are struggling for the future of our grandchildren, we can’t afford losers.
Gandhi is misspelt as Ghandi, but that can be fixed in the next edition – for I hope there will be one.
In The Garden Farmer, Francine Raymond shares her recipe for a garlic spray that gets rid of those dastardly red lily beetles, the bane of the gardener’s existence as well as aphids, mites and whiteflies.
Mash two or three garlic cloves in a mortar and pestle and steep in half a litre of water. Mix well and leave to macerate for a couple of days. Strain the bits and decant into a spray bottle.
And line-dry your clothes to save electricity, lessen greenhouse gas emissions, reduce wear and tear on your clothes and minimise static, writes Raymond. Pegged properly – from the hem – clothes get less wrinkled and need less ironing, she continues, adding that the occasional rain shower while the clothes are hanging outside works as a fabric softener. If you want to go whole hog, you can follow her suggestion to drape clothes to dry on top of fragrant bushes.
• Earth Day will be celebrated on April 22.