First, before I dive into why it’s important to emulate one of our shortest and most unassuming D&D characters, let me take a moment to speak to my own qualifications in stating that humans should act more like hobbits. Often scholars will take chapters of a book to carefully lay out the arguments that have gone before. They write about the researchers they have studied, the epistemologies they agree or disagree with and generally why they are worth listening to. As Druids, we often read these scholarly books and pray to all we hold Holy that they will get on with the point soon. Dear reader, let me take a paragraph of your time to convince you that I do actually know what I’m talking about.
About 15 years ago I was obsessed with what being an “authentic pagan” meant. Basically I wanted to be a witch in the woods, with herbs and spells who gave tea and wisdom to passersby. Not a bad goal to have, really. But it lead to an odyssey of discovery in my real life. My husband and I got interested in learning how to cook vegetables we had never heard of. That lead to an interest in organic agriculture, and that lead to a rabbit hole that would impress Lewis Carroll. I studied organic winter hoophouse production at Michigan State University with Dr. John Biernbaum. I worked at Giving Tree Farm, a local organic farm and CSA and helped run a small CSA when I was co-housing. I’ve butchered animals, raised lettuces, preserved food, collected eggs, and defended myself from domesticated turkeys. (Those things are mean!) So I’ve got hands on learning. But more than that, I’ve studied our food systems, sustainability, the history of empires and early civilization, and generally thought a lot about what the heck can a regular person do to actually make a difference?
For a short time I thought about joining Greenpeace and running off to save the world but in the end I stayed home. I was convinced that the world didn’t need saving over there, it needed saving right here. That’s the thing, the questions I have can’t be answered by someone chained to a tree, as much as I might admire that level of dedication. It can only be answered by each of us, right where we are, because we the people are the ones who need to change.
Okay, so that was two paragraphs. Sorry guys. Onward:
HOBBITS. I’M NOT KIDDING.
Mostly I’m looking at this from a Lord of the Rings perspective. Hobbits don’t have fancy castles, but what they do have is a rich and comfortable life and that’s the thing I want people to imagine. It’s so easy to think about all the things we might lose if we live more sustainably. We know a lot of things are bad for the environment. We know plastics suck. We know glitter is glomming up the oceans. We know plane travel is a great way to make climate change worse. What we don’t know is what the heck to do about these things, because we cannot imagine a life without them.
Saying we want to honor the nature spirits without addressing the fact that our world is horribly out of balance ecologically is like saying we want to get a job as long as we don’t have to write a resume or actually go to work. We also know from modern psychology that guilt is a horrible motivator, and modern corporate America is not a place that encourages small local economies or self-sufficiency.
So basically what I’m saying is that I’m not going to guilt you into getting rid of your paper plates and travel plans, because I know it won’t work.
Instead, I’m going to temp you with delicious food, amazing aromas, deep friendships, abiding traditions, and the best that life has to offer. Be a Hobbit.
This idea can be used for every aspect of life, every kind of person. Everyone can use less, learn the skills to repair the things they want to have, find local sources for stuff they want, eat local food, enjoy local friends and community, and generally live their lives where they are, because that’s the Hobbit way. I encourage you to live small, not large.
Begin to build new traditions, and rediscover old ones based on this idea. Start a monthly game night or sing-along, or go to one that someone else hosts. (I do both) Make new holiday traditions that are less about Black Friday and more about quality time. I will say this isn’t always easy. Sometimes no one comes to a game night. Many times we feel a great deal of pressure from loved ones and relatives to conform to old traditions. In this we can be leaders. We can create new or find old traditions to replace things like buying piles of Yule presents or going to Florida on vacation every year. But you’ll never convince them of a thing by making them feel bad. You have to make them feel awesome! Not only are they having a great time, but they’re making the world a better place while they do it! Woot!Hobbits love well crafted things. How many of us have drooled at the Baggins’s beautiful home Bag End? We can move toward that too. The thing is, well crafted hand made items cost a pretty penny. You’re not going to be able to just buy your way into Hobbiton unless you’ve got a really great job or a lot of privilege. That’s where learning new skills becomes so wonderful. You can’t make everything in your life, there’s not enough time. I know, I’ve certainly tried. But you can learn new things. This means reapportioning your time and your money. Buy more tools and less clothes. Spend more time learning how to make useful things. Do you like knitting? How about knitting socks? You only need a couple of hats, but socks are endless. Do you like machinery? What about small motor repair, bike repair, or engine maintenance? Do you like cooking? What about baking homemade bread, lacto-fermenting local vegetables, or raising chickens for eggs? Do you like crafting? What about basket making, broom making, spinning, or woodworking?
Advertising and marketing tell us a story about how we need stuff. We need oil changes and organizers, new clothes and hot dates. But we don’t. What we really need is more time. At the end of the day the one thing we can never get enough of, the one thing more important than money or anything else is time, and time is what we always have. So don’t feel guilty if you went on a spending spree today, but do commit to using some of those craft supplies you bought tomorrow. Work on doing something that will be useful and beautiful with them. Become the Hobbit you always wanted to be. They’re so much cooler than those stodgy elves anyway.
Every time you go local, you create a positive feedback loop. Not only do you make your local economy more robust, you save all that fuel that would be used to truck stuff across the continent, and oftentimes across the globe. People ask me if they should buy local or buy organic. I say local, every time. That’s because our food systems are crazy fragile. Food is a basic need. It’s primal. Protect yourself and your community by learning how to cook with the wonderful things you have. Learn what’s in season, and learn to grow your own too, but respect that these things can be difficult and give yourself time and space to fail. That’s okay.
I suggest picking one thing. One skill, one change. Focus on that. It’s very easy to bite off more than you can chew, especially when you’re being a very tiny person. Remember: a pint is a lot of beer when you’re a Hobbit. Find one aspect of your life where you can be local, use less, learn to repair something, or make something that doesn’t involve shipping things from China. Then get good at it. That will probably take some time. It will probably seem like a very small thing. This is good. It means you’re doing it right. Real change of this nature takes a while. Here’s a list of book resources that I’ve gathered over the years to get you started. You will probably build your own unique list of books and skills. That’s great! Each of us has our own gifts and interests. All of that needs to be more sustainable and frankly, I don’t have time to figure it all out. I give thanks for every person who takes the time to learn how to make their own life a little more sustainable.