You are Generation Green!
When I was a kid, I didn’t know that we were more environmentally conscious—greener—than my friends’ families. I just thought everybody lived like we did, and there weren’t a whole lot of other people around to tell me otherwise. From age four until I was nine my parents raised me in the woods in northern New Mexico, where we lived on hundreds of acres of raw land. My folks built our house themselves, which was 100 percent solar-powered. (Mom even juiced her laptop from the sun.) We lived “off the grid,” meaning we weren’t connected to the electrical system or public utilities. We didn’t need an alarm clock; we just went to sleep after it got dark and woke up with the sun. It was so far away from everything that friends always got lost trying to find us down the maze of dirt roads. I loved it, even though we had so few of the things most kids take for granted—working toilets, indoor heating, phones, trash pickup, a dishwasher. If we wanted water, we couldn’t just turn on a faucet; we had to catch it from the roof—did you know you can save one hundred fifty gallons from a single summer afternoon’s storm?—or lug it in five-gallon jugs from a well a quarter of a mile away. Water was so precious we’d even catch the morning dew in our tank.
As a five-year-old I used to help my folks chop up dead wood for heat with a small ax. That was a blast, and I never even got a nick. When my friends visited, Mom would take us on treasure hunts, looking for deer and moose tracks, and arrowheads. That was all great, but I had to use an outhouse for forever, which was a total drag. We had empty jars stored under the kitchen sink that we used for those “late night” emergencies when I didn’t want to go outside in the pitch-dark and walk the thirty feet in the freezing cold to use the outhouse. And without a heater (can you say 22 degrees in the living room at three a.m.?) if I used one of those jars in the middle of the night in the wintertime, by morning the contents were often frozen. Okay, pretty gross, I know. T.M.I.
Living in a forest and being so close to nature changes you. I used to run for hours in the woods with my siblings—ha, really my pack of dogs—so townspeople called me Mowgli the Jungle Boy. Sometimes I’d put newborn puppies into my pockets to keep them warm while I went out walking in the snow. Life in New Mexico taught me so many things. Like how precious our natural resources are. You become a homegrown expert in low-impact living because being even a little wasteful in that environment feels all wrong—like wearing a tuxedo to a hip-hop concert. Some things just don’t go together.
We bought our land from a Native-American medicine man who lived in a small makeshift cabin nearby. We lived next to his tepee and his inepi—an igloo-shaped contraption where he did these amazing sweat lodge ceremonies. The medicine man taught us to “walk lightly” on Mother Earth and ponder the thoughts of plants and rocks, “who had seen so much.” He taught us to think about how everything we do affects future generations—perhaps the most important lesson passed down to him from his elders. It’s easier to learn that lesson when you’re surrounded by grass and brown earth and can literally see your own footprints.
We saw so many different approaches to caring for the earth in rural New Mexico—but also so many contradictions. The medicine man said that he wanted nothing but a can of beans every day and a tepee to live in, and that he dreamed of going totally back to nature—but when he got a gas generator, he always had his TV blaring the news. The consique (tribal spiritual leader) of the Taos Pueblo, “Grampa” Pete Concha, told us he feared for our safety every time we went to “the outworld”—Los Angeles, where Mom and Dad had to go for work (Mom’s a writer and Dad’s an actor). But wasn’t our favorite city also sacred by just being part of the earth? I was confused. When we first moved to New Mexico, the locals didn’t immediately trust our good intentions, calling us “Hollywood” and “Easy Money” and “Indian Wannabes.” We had to work hard to fit in and convince them that we cared about the land and their ways as much as they did. Sometimes it felt like we were living in two worlds.
When I was in fourth grade, we moved back to a suburb of Los Angeles so my dad could be closer to his acting auditions and Mom could do press for her first book. Then I really did have to figure out how to live in two worlds!...