It’s been a while. I spent all of August in Maryland with my family in the house where I grew up, celebrating birthdays, helping out my dad and brother, learning to love baseball (I even bought a Washington Nationals baseball cap), visiting with plastic-free friends, and driving for twelve hours each way to experience one stunning 2 and a half minute act of nature. If I were still a kid (and who says I’m not?), this would be my report to the class. And I would probably get marked down for procrastinating and turning it in late. What else is new?
Big Almost Plastic-Free Birthday Party
August is a month of birthdays for our family: My sister Ellen and her daughter Abby were both born on the same day of the month. My dad’s birthday is four days later. So my niece Lauren and I organized a big birthday bash for the gang.
But what do you serve to a houseful of people of all different ages (from tykes to Millenials to Octagenarians) and all different eating habits? Lauren came up with the idea of creating a giant salad bar.
We bought nearly all fresh and packaging-free produce and spent a fun evening slicing and chopping and grating. The sweet corn was amazing and didn’t even need to be cooked. We made black beans from scratch (in a regular pot because I didn’t have my pressure cooker), homemade potato salad, and even homemade croutons. The meat did come in plastic because, unfortunately, I had not brought a big enough container with me to Maryland to buy meat without plastic, and I’m not even sure it would have been available if I had. (Need to do more research on that.)
Okay, if you scrutinize the picture, you will see some plastic containers. Those were either things that my dad already had in the house or that were brought by guests. We don’t judge!!!
Life Without Plastic
When Chantal Plamondon from the online shop Life Without Plastic learned that I would be on the East Coast for a month, she decided to drive down from Wakefield, Quebec, Canada to visit. We had been trying to figure out a way to connect in person again ever since realizing we were plastic-free soul sisters at the San Francisco Green Festival back in 2012.
Here we are at my dad’s house together. See? We even accidentally coordinated our clothing.
Chantal brought wonderful gifts from her store: an organic cotton net produce bag and a stainless steel water pitcher.
We took long walks, and Chantal told me about the Life Without Plastic Book that will be coming out in December. We compared notes on the challenges of publishing and writing.
We traipsed around Baltimore’s inner harbor and had lunch at a meatball restaurant in Fell’s Point. There’s no reason to include this final picture except that it cracks me up every single time.
I guess the most ironic part of the visit was the fact that Chantal had to sleep on a plastic air mattress at my dad’s house. And she says it was pretty comfortable!
Takoma Park Farmers Market
I got to meet up with more old friends from earlier blogging days, Diane MacEachern from Big Green Purse and Lynn Miller from OrganicMania, who were among the original founders of the Green Moms Carnival blogging group back in the day. We hung out for a while at the Takoma Park Farmers Market.
What amazed me about this market was not that there was no plastic — yes, they still offer plastic bags, but those are easily avoidable if you bring your own bags — but that there were no (or very few) plastic containers for small things like cherry tomatoes. Where I live in Northern California, most of the vendors are still selling that stuff in plastic baskets or plastic containers, and those of us avoiding plastic have to empty our produce out into our own bag or container and hand the plastic container back to the vendor. But look at all these items offered plastic-free in Takoma Park, MD:
Okay, yes, I would empty these plastic-free containers into my reusable bag as well and hand them back to be reused. No need for the extra container. But I’m just glad that they have substituted natural, biodegradable materials for the plastic.
The Finale Comes in the Middle
Okay, now I have saved the best for last, even though it happened in the middle of the trip and not at the end. On August 20, my sister and I drove down to Andrews, North Carolina with my dad and little brother to witness 2 and half minutes of solar eclipse totality.
Yes, I had my Klean Kanteen and filled up with water all along the way. But was there plastic? I confess. THERE WAS PLASTIC! My sister and I went a little nutty the day before buying junk food for the road. It reminded me of the road trip my dad and I did in 2010, sponsored by Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. (That’s a joke, of course. We bought all our own plastic-packaged and processed snack foods.) Yes, I know I wrote about phthalates in processed cheese powder only a month before this trip. Like I said above, NO JUDGING!!!
Andrews, NC is a tiny town in the Great Smoky Mountains, but for August 21, 2017, it changed its name to Totality Town, NC because it was situated in the very center of the path of totality for the 2017 solar eclipse. And the town was ready!
There were eclipse-related educational events all over town, and folks were camped out in the fields near the school. We stayed in a motel about an hour away and drove into town early that morning to beat the traffic. All day, we waited, and waited, viewing through our official solar eclipse glasses every few minutes after it started.
That day, I was glad for plastic. I was glad for the plastic lenses protecting our eyes, and for the plastic chairs we brought to sit in, and the plastic umbrella keeping the sun off. And I was grateful to the folks at breakfast who warned us that to take pictures of the partial phases of the eclipse without damaging our camera sensors, we should tape eclipse glasses lenses over the lenses of our cameras. Fortunately, we had extras.
Still, our phone cameras could not capture what we actually saw when looking through our glasses. This is the eclipse through my camera right before the sun is about to disappear.
Minutes before the sun actually did disappear, the temperature, which had been scorching all day, dropped at least 10 degrees. The daylight took on an eerie cast. People got very quiet. You could feel palpable excitement, anticipation, and even a little fear.
And then, the sun was gone. We took off our glasses and saw this:
There were grunts and groans that just seemed to emanate from our throats automatically. A lot of “Oh, oh, oh my god, oh, oh.” There were wolf howls from all over town. (Human wolves howling.) There was a visceral, primal feeling in the gut. Like something you never knew was inside you had suddenly been released. My brother David just kept repeating, “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it.”
Was it worth the drive? For me, it was. It was one more awesome reminder of this mysterious universe that we mostly take for granted each day. A reminder that we are part of something so much greater than humans can comprehend and that all we can really do is try our best each day to be kind to each other and this fragile planet that is our home.
Update: A few commenters have reminded me about the Astronomers Without Borders collection program for used eclipse glasses. Collected glasses will be sent to schools in South America and Asia when the 2019 eclipse crosses those continents. There are collection centers all over the country, including in many libraries. Here’s a list of collection locations. The map and search function on the page are not working tonight on my computer, but if you use your browser’s search feature (I press Ctrl+F on my Windows PC) you can find a location in your town.