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Sustainable Living

I walked Willow down to the pond yesterday morning. I left the house around 8:30 hoping to beat the heat and humidity. Willow, a frisky, intelligent German Short-Haired Pointer, knew better—it was already hot and humid—and balked when I tried to leash her. A Paul Newman peanut butter treat persuaded her, more or less. My daughter had mentioned that she needed exercise—two days languishing in the house because of the weather—and all of us too busy working to take her for a long walk or a swim in the river. So off we went.

We don’t always walk to the pond—about two miles away and up and down some challenging hills—but I was curious to see if the movie shoot was underway and whether or not Winn’s garden was completely destroyed or only partially destroyed. She and her partner, Chuck, have owned their farmhouse for more than two decades, and they are weekenders, city people. So they can stay home or travel during the two months or so of disruption. And they are being paid a facility fee. I had asked Winn if she thought it would be worth it and she had said, “yes,” but I didn’t mention what I knew about film crews descending, literally. My husband and I had agreed to a James Bond shoot in our flat in London years ago, so I knew. A crew is meticulous, caring, concerned, attentive. But they do not want you around to see the havoc they wreak and then, when they are done, how they try to fix it as best they can. Winn said, “It will become part of the history of the house.” Well, that’s something, I thought. At least memory and history are sustainable.

I carried water and promised Willow we’d stop at the stream where she could dip her mattress-ticked ankles into the water. I would pour water over my head, as needed.

As soon as we rounded the bend leading to the meadow I saw cars, trucks, and movement. The barn door opposite Chuck and Winn’s farmhouse was open. This had become the prop room. There were about five crew prepping for the day, a movie called “Peace, Love and Misunderstanding,” with Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener. The stars had not yet arrived. I said good morning to the crew—who barely noticed my presence—and turned back up the road. I noticed that Winn’s furniture was on the porch, that her native garden had been replaced with another, more flowery, garden, and that the newly painted frontage was already scratched and chipped.

On the hot trek home I got to thinking about the presence of this movie crew in what has become a much more sustainable neighborhood. Several young couples, including my daughter and son-in-law, have become environmental activists. They don’t grow anything that can’t be eaten, they share vegetables from their gardens, and they replenish the soil with compost. They are devoted to understanding the degradation of the earth by the industrial food chain, and to repairing it. I contribute in small ways when I am here. On walks, I clean up beer cans and other debris. I’ve learned how to compost and to eat modestly. I’ve learned how to let the chickens out of their coop though I usually let my husband do that. “Buy Local,” is one of the mottos on signage in the area so I buy local. The screenwriter is a local boy, as is the scout, so that seems like a good thing. Chuck and Winn are being paid and that’s good, too. But what else is the film company doing to “give back” to this neighborhood? To sustain it? Even before the recession, there was a lot of poverty in upstate New York, families in trailers, unemployed, or enlisted in the army. There are more yellow ribbons on the houses and trees around here than I have seen anywhere else recently.

Two mornings ago, a scout working for the local scout came by the house and offered $500 to place two dumpsters at the end of the driveway.”We have too many vehicles so we have no space down at the farmhouse,” he explained. The request--softened by the offer of money—felt audacious, intrusive, and unsustainable. When the crew has come and gone, and the movie stars have been escorted home in their vans and limos, what will be left behind?
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