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Old things new again

Sarah Hatfield For The Audubon

I spent a large portion of the past weekend cleaning. Somewhat in anticipation of the Audubon Rummage Sale happening on March 28 and 29, in part because the winter doldrums have kicked in and are making me a bit cabin-feverish, and in final part because my kitchen was gross. As I cleaned, held items in my hands and decided whether they should be kept or not, the bigger question loomed: If I don’t keep it, what do I do with it?

Combine that with a recent quote from David Attenborough in which he says, “Live the way you want to live, just don’t waste.” You see the conundrum. If I throw something away, I am wasting it. Yes, I can recycle, but even that is becoming a challenge… glass is no longer easily recycled in the region. So, the box of non-returnable glass bottles and jars in my kitchen gets moved to the garage.

I believe in the maxim “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” There is something to repairing an item that develops ingenuity and creativity. There is something to making an item last a little bit longer that inspires pride. There is always the fact that extending the life of something saves more money than if you choose replace it.

Older items are often crafted better and are of higher quality than items created now. For better or for worse, the country has swung from a frugal “make-it-do” mentality to a disposable one. Don’t like it anymore? Throw it out. New model available? Throw the old one out. Outgrew it? Throw it out. Broken? Outdated? Requires regular maintenance now? Throw it out. Too expensive to recycle? Throw it out.

What if we didn’t? What if we kept, repaired, and reused things? What if we kindled the creativity of our minds to invent new lives for old objects? I recently purchased a piece of jewelry made from the hinges of daguerreotypes. Once upon a time this little piece of silver hinged two photo frames, cradling images of loved ones long forgotten. Now their stories, those strangers from the past, mingle with mine as that silver encircles my finger in the form of a ring. And so their story continues in mine.

Let’s go back to the glass jars in my garage. They are from olives, capers, and sunflower oil. They are from yogurt, artichoke hearts, and more. I upcycle many of them. Some jars get used for vases, some for treasures, others for craft supplies, plants, nuts, bolts, and storing dry goods. Some for art projects, to hold pencils, chicken feathers, or loose change. Audubon is having a Make-and-Take Terrarium Workshop on March 7 that will use some of them. There are infinite uses for those glass jars. The larger problem is that I have finite space.

Are these jars every going to be valuable? No, likely not. But then again, I know not what the future holds and perhaps someday we will be mining landfills for glass (not me, of course, I have a garage full!). I feel like I shouldn’t waste them. Once upon a time, rather than bury them in a landfill, people used to just toss them in the woods. I actually have a handful of cool little glass bottles I use as vases, and even a one-gallon jug that I salvaged from an old farm dump. What a lot of work it would be if that was how we had to get glass in the future!

Maybe I’m just a packrat, maybe it is depression-era mentality, maybe it is a frugal mindset. But the waste that is so prevalent in the world bothers me. It is why I sit on the kitchen floor and go through all the old cookbooks to see which ones I can get rid of, and decide none of them. Because they are great books with excellent recipes. But a thrift store will throw them out, because everyone has the internet and why do they need a cookbook?

Well, until they don’t have the internet. Or the power is out and they have to come up with a family meal on the grill. Or when the zombie apocalypse comes… oh, wait… sorry.

I kept all the cookbooks, and the glass containers. They are useful, and of good quality. They have a life ahead of them that doesn’t involve the landfill. (Oh, on that note, want to learn what happens to all the stuff we throw away? Audubon is doing a Landfill Tour on April 4.). I kept the vase my friend made for me in college, though I composted the stems of cotton it held for 20 years (too dusty!).

I’ll continue to clean, and sort, and I encourage you too as well. Those nice and useful things that you don’t want can be brought to Audubon the week of the Rummage Sale to find their new life with someone else. You never know. As T. S. Eliot wrote in a poem, he writes “Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires / Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth / Which is already flesh, fur, and feces / Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.”

I’ll continue my cabin-fever cleaning, giving things new lives, maintaining old ones, and waiting for the day to revive those long lost.

Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.

Sarah Hatfield is an educator at ACNC.

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