Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"Cherish the Natural Order..."

"Does it nurture people?" and "Does it protect our environment" are the conformed-to-God's-image questions." ~Doris Janzen Longacre in the chapter, "Cherish the Natural Order," from her book, Living More With Less

"Who wants to take the scenic route?!"

When my kids were young and we'd all pile into the car to go somewhere, I'd often ask that question. That meant we'd take the back roads or go out of our way to see something interesting along the way to wherever we were going. It always meant by-passing the main highways that shot us straight into town like through a chute.

And, without fail, the kids always answered my question about taking the scenic route with an enthusiastic, "Me!"

We weren't in a hurry. We enjoyed ourselves. The roads meandered prettily and gracefully through the countryside. Roads tended to curve, so the pace was slower than on the highway, but we didn't seem to lose much time (what makes time "lost" anyway?), and there was always more of a grace and beauty and enjoyment to our "scenic" drives. We seemed to have more of a natural mindfulness that is absent on a fast and busy, super-efficient freeway or highway.

Why are people in such a hurry anyway? In the end, I think, no matter what our circumstances, it comes down to choice, and most of us are currently blessed enough in our situations to be able to make those choices if we'd like.

On family trips when I was growing up, my dad was the sort of traveler who would stop at general stores for candy or ice cream. He'd stop at parks and beaches so we could play and eat our lunch and play catch with a softball or frisbee. We took our time, but it was such a nice pace and so much fun. We took the metaphorical scenic route (and, most often, the literal scenic route as well).

On my in-town walks, I like to look at the old houses and the new developments. On a recent walk, I was looking at some huge mansion-like homes high on a hill with a stunning view of the city and the valley below. These homes were behind fences (usually with an obvious, and, I'm sure, necessary, security system). I've seen the trucks, equipment, and workers of gardening companies at these homes (their presence is continual in the summer), but I've never once seen an actual occupant of any of these homes. They do not seem to work in their own yards or even stay home much. The landscaping of these yards is on a grand scale, requiring much work and maintenance. The homes strike me as meaning to impose and impress, though, of course, really nice people probably live in them. Rather than looking inviting, these huge homes seem to isolate the owners and bar true community from occurring.

In the same area, I've walked and driven by a small eco-development. Melissa and I went by there yesterday, in fact. This appeals to me. The homes are small and quite charming. Garages did not impose like they do in so many developments. Landscaping is completely natural. The houses are close together, but not all lined up in a row, and there doesn't seem to be a feeling of being too-crowded or invaded upon so much as being part of a nice community. The feeling I get from this place is lovely, appealing, and inviting. I would want to live here.

Then I got to thinking about what I would want ideally in a home (which will likely never happen, but I can work in as many factors as possible into any place I do live). As I've written these items down, I realize that I want them to fit within the questions asked at the top of this post in the quote from Living More With Less: "Does it nurture people?" "Does it protect our environment?" In other words, does it cherish the natural order? We are, after all, stewards of this world, and our main business should be people. Relationships.

1. I want a small, simple, charming home, made according to my favorite patterns in A Pattern Language. A simply, prettily designed home doesn't need much in the way of decor to make it attractive or cosy. The cosiness can largely be inherent in the design. I would be willing to move into an existing house that I could make into my ideal home, or I would build one. I would want the interior, exterior, and placement in the landscape to be conducive to relationships and community.

2. I want it to be a green home. This is really important to me, but I have an awful lot to learn in this area. I've done quite a lot of reading over the years, and I want to do more:

-- made of natural materials
-- everything non-toxic (inside and out)
-- eco-heating (I love radiant floor heating)
-- sustainable construction and daily living
-- healthy
-- solar or other alternative sources of power
-- made of high-quality materials and construction (which is more affordable in a small home)

3. I want to have natural landscaping. I'm not against designed and planned gardens (I love places like the Japanese botanical gardens in Portland or some of the large, orderly gardens I saw in England), but my personal aesthetic leans toward natural:

-- a xeriscape or close to it
-- use of native plants and flowers (lots of pretty, colorful native wildflowers and perennials make gorgeous gardens)
-- leave as much nature in the surroundings as possible
-- grow a simple, efficient, organic fruit, vegetable, and herb garden for produce
-- I never want to use chemicals or anything toxic in my gardens or landscaping
-- nature (birds and other creatures) friendly

4. I want my home to be simple (I'm repeating myself!):

-- really attractive and inviting
-- cosy and appealing to the human spirit (which is really a repeat or an underscoring of the item just above this one)
-- scaled back (way scaled back) possessions-- few things, but attractive, interesting, well-made, quality things
-- bookshelves are a must
-- a fire I can see (maybe a very eco-efficient woodstove)
-- I like a fairly open floor plan that is relaxed, casual, and allows people to be in proximity to each other.
-- a simple kitchen with open shelves and room for a table; this can be a large room because, in my opinion, the kitchen really is the heart of the home

As I write, I realize that I could go on and on. I certainly have ideas about what I'd like my home to look like, what it's purpose would be (a place for rest, growth, sustenance, and relationship), etc., but this post is not so much about itemizing what I want in my ideal home as to say that, even in the way I build and live in my home, I want to cherish the natural order. I don't think this is always done very well.

It seems there was a time when, generally speaking, man-made things didn't seem disruptive to the natural order. They even seemed to enhance it in some ways. Think of a beautiful, well-made old barn, gracing a country hillside. Or an old general store along a country road. The homes were often charming. The roads were scenic and pretty. Places of work were often well-designed and people-friendly. There was a naturalness and beauty to them, for the most part. This was not just a country thing-- even some of the old places of business in towns or cities often had something appealing about them (of course there were also the polluting, dehumanizing factories that came along, too, as well as other bits of ugliness, all coming with "progress"). People at leisure really seemed to be at leisure once, where now, it can seem that leisure is an exhausting affair.

And now, with progress and the busyness and hurry and desire for speed and efficiency that come with it, there seems to be so much ugliness. When I take photos, occasionally I have to struggle to avoid getting power lines in the shot, or the ATV tracks on the beach (we tend to avoid the beaches where they can be ridden), cell towers, and other bits of obtrusive ugliness. But this isn't about not liking what messes up my photos; it's more about me suddenly noticing how very unnatural or unattractive the order of our surroundings and way of life has gotten. Modern progress doesn't often seem to have a pretty face. And what, if anything, does this do to the human spirit?

I don't know about anyone else, but I want to keep things slow and simple. I want to strive for, and cherish, the natural order and I want to take the scenic route.