In need of a refresher on pruning technique, I stopped in at my second home, the Freeland Library.
No sooner had I cast my eyes toward the garden section than a title jumped out at me: How to Cheat at Gardening and Yard Work. As I’d rather be a Cheater than a Dummy or an Idiot any day, I grabbed that book.
While How To Cheat is about tips and shortcuts — cheats — for making garden work easier and gardens lower maintenance, the author opens with a short manifesto about the cheating way of thinking. These 10 points are guiding principles to prepare the mind for a new way of looking at the topic of garden tasks.
I immediately saw the possibilities for adapting these concise points to my search for the environmentally sound guide to living on the coast.
Cheater’s Manifesto for Living on the Coast
1. Care of the land and water has no end point.
The natural world is always going to be there and will always support us. Far better if we also support it. We’re part of a vast system that can’t be eternally bent to our way without breaking down. Look for ways to work with nature rather than trying to remove it from the equation.
2. It all starts with the elements.
Whether you’re gardening, building or fishing, the air, the soil and the water were there first, and must be thought about first.
3. Nature is more powerful and knows better than you.
When deciding how to form your coastal life, remember that nature calls the shots. Ignoring natural forces will cost far more in the end. Understanding, embracing and working with nature will pay dividends you can’t even imagine now.
4. We all make mistakes.
With all the variables at play in the coastal environment, nothing we do here is black and white. Scientists do the best they can to find out what’s what and share that information with us. In dealing with our impacts on the land and water, we need to use the information provided to us as best we can. Just like we do when choosing our food or raising our children. When you learn you’ve been making a mistake, admit it and take another tack.
5. Take risks and escape the tyranny of “the way we’ve always done it.”
From goat milk shampoo to riding a bike to work, new ideas come along every day. Give some that seem outlandish an honest try. Remember what Helen Keller said: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
6. Helping to heal the world will heal you.
Chemicals make our bodies sick. They’re no better for our land and water. Exercising outdoors is good for us. Being outside is also good for the earth, because we care for what we inhabit on a daily basis. Taking part in a beach cleanup or stream restoration benefits our hearts and minds while also benefiting the land and sea.
7. Decide what you’re here for.
Why did you come to the coast? Because it’s beautiful? For fresh air? To play on the beach? To raise a healthy family? Why are you here now? Are you here to watch life happen to other people on television? Or are you here to live your own great life? Keep answering this question. Keep acting on the answer.
8. Work hard to make taking care of nature easy.
Get rid of habits, products and processes that don’t benefit nature or anyone. We do a lot of things without thinking. Do the hard work of choosing between what you really want in your life, what’s worth spending time, energy and money on versus what’s simply been sold to you.
9. Know your limits.
When it comes to waterfront properties, some jobs require more than trial and error, or traditionally accepted practices. Some technical problems are beyond our knowledge. Those times call for expert help. Get that help early. There’s a great network of scientists and professionals surrounding coastal issues. They really appreciate being called in before a situation turns into an emergency.
10. Learn to value a different set of rewards.
While instant gratification is nice, it can be difficult to come by when working with nature. In this realm, you have to take the long view. When you’re seeking control over your surroundings, letting things be, letting the pieces fall where they may, can be the ultimate torture. If your biggest thrill is planting your petunias precisely 10 inches apart, on center, you’re in for some changes. But the rewards for learning to SAIL (Stand Aside, Interfere Little) will be great.
How to Cheat at Gardening and Yard Work, by Jeff Bredenberg, is available at most libraries and of course, on Amazon.com.
A version of this post previously appeared in The South Whidbey Record September 9, 2010