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  Saturday January 31st, 2015    

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A fair gift exchange (12/23/2007)
By Janet Lewis Burns
For many city dwellers, the outdoors is what one passes through from a taxi to an office or a restaurant. Others, always rushing, don't pause to see what lies all around them. In the seclusion of their spacious homes the natural is shut out by designer window dressings.

On a recent overcast morning, driving along a country road, flimsy sheets of grayish fog skittered across the sky, keeping sun's shining face undercover. Cornfield's stubble and plowed tracts of land stretch from horizon to gravel road. The natural world seems unaffected, uninterrupted by the holiday season.

That's a human thing - all the hoopla that goes along with every celebration that graces our calendars and date books. Something made me uncomfortable. Something was out of place, awkward. Splashed across windows, a minuscule portion of the greater world unfolds minute unto minute, breath-by-breath. Man made obstructions form barriers to the harmonious scheme of things.

For some reason, I was abruptly disgusted and insulted by wire fences, cockeyed mailboxes, wood poles and wires running through the scenery. Collapsed buildings and vacated houses and barns look shoddy again pristine waves of virgin snow. Trashy yards and unkempt property infect our territory with neglect.

I thought about all the articles I've recently read concerning our threatened resources and serious dangers to the environment. Will fresh water soon become a coveted commodity traded between countries just as oil has been?

It's becoming a plastic jungle out there! Thirty-eight billion recyclable plastic vessels are trashed every year in the U.S. Though H20 in bottles is up to 10,000 times more expensive than tap water, consumers buy it ravenously.

Through the manufacture, transport and disposal of the 22 billion petroleum-based plastic bottles used every year, designed not to biodegrade, only about 23% are recycled; the rest continue to overflow our landfills. Can't you just hear the earth groan as shoppers say "plastic" instead of "paper?"

Ours is a planet inhabited by more than a million and a half species of plants and animals, all existing together, revolving in some semblance of balance, recycling over and over again the molecules and atoms from the air and the soil. Man, as appointed steward of the land, has flawed the master plan by assuming superiority over nature and the earth.

It was nearing twilight as I headed toward home that day. Christmas tree lights and candles began to pierce through the haze, turning dreary to a soft glow. I always seem to return from the country with a gift - sightings of deer eating in an open field, crops swaying in unison, snowcapped pine branches, and silhouettes of farmsteads against blazing sunsets...but Christmas is different.

Thoughts of what we can give back to the earth usually don't cross our frazzled, Yuletide minds, even as we decorate our homes with dried flower bouquets, pine and holly wreaths and sprays, and display the perfect tree adorned with sparkle and brilliant color. We are too occupied with holiday festivities to consider what the earth may need from us.

We humans, despite our lofty possessions, noble accomplishments, and status in our communities, owe our very existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains. A sad situation follows, as pesticides and other soil contaminants, which reduce crop yields by about one-third, are known to be directly toxic to a number of soil microorganisms. Yet the USDA is shortchanging programs that regulate and promote the organically grown industry.

Environmental awareness and active conservation of our natural resources are a fair gift exchange between sojourners briefly occupying the land and the bounty, beauty, and balance that the natural world offers. The future of the holidays may depend on it.

A recycled Christmas to all.

Janet Burns is a lifelong resident of the heart of Winona County. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com 


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