“Number one. Bring your own Tupperware to a restaurant for leftovers, as often as possible.”
“I’ve not eaten at a restaurant in over two years.”
“Try bringing your own mug for tea or coffee. Does not apply, I guess. Carry your own cutlery, use no plastic utensils, ditto ditto. Okay, here’s one. Carry your own Nalgene bottle instead of buying bottled water.”
“Our well water is good. We wouldn’t pay for store-bought.”
“Okay,” he said. “Try to reduce the intake of red meat in your diet.”
“Are you crazy? I’m trying to increase our intake of red meat.”
“Why is that?”
“Because mac and cheese only gets you so far, is why. We have lamb, we produce that on our farm. But I don’t have a freezer. I have to get it from my in-laws.”
Mr. Akins went quiet. His dark eyes swam like tadpoles behind his glasses.
“Is that it?” she asked.
“No. There are five other categories.”
“Let’s hear them.”
“No really. You came all this way. To get us on board.”
“Okay,” he said, sounding a little nervous. “Skipping ahead to Everyday Necessities. Try your best to buy reused. Use Craigslist.”
“What is that?” she asked, although she had a pretty good idea.
“Craigslist,” he said. “On the Internet.”
“I don’t have a computer.”
Mr. Akins moved quickly to cover his bases. “Or find your your local reuse stores.”
“Find them,” she said.
“Plan your errand route so you drive less!” Now he sounded belligerent.
“Who wouldn’t do do that? With what gas costs?”
He went quiet again.
“What are the other categories?” she asked.
“Home-office-household-travel-financial. We don’t have to go on.”
She put down the binoculars and looked at him. She’d lost track of the butterflies anyway. “Let’s hear financial.”
Mr. Akins read in a rushed monotone: “Switch some of your stocks and mutual funds to socially responsible investments, skip, skip. Okay, Home-slash-Office. Make sure old computers get recycled. Turn your monitor off when not in use. I think we’ve got a lot of not applicable here.”
“Okay, this is the last one,” he said. “Fly less.”
“Fly less,” she repeated.
He looked at his paper as if receiving orders from some higher authority. “That’s all she wrote. Fly less.”
Have you ever looked at those articles on Yahoo or whatever, how to save $500 a month or something stupid like that? And they say, “Give up your daily Starbucks. Bring lunch from home. Eat at restaurants less often. Shop around for your insurance. Double check your cell phone plan.” And you think, OK, if I ALREADY DO THESE THINGS, how am I to slash $500 a month? They’re assuming I have no sense.
I think, because I’ve read these stupid articles one time too many, and never found a way to save more than $10 or something like that, because I’m already very careful with money, that this was my favorite section of Barbara Kingsolver’s new book, Flight Behavior. Flight Behavior is the story of Bellarobia, a 20-something mother of two, living in very-rural Tennessee on a house with her husband, on the edge of her in-laws sheep farm. Bellarobia is running away from her life as an impoverished wife and mother at the beginning of Flight Behavior, running into the arms of a younger utility worker, hoping for some escape from the drudgery of her life, when she comes across an amazing sight that causes her to rethink her decisions, her entire life. She comes across an amazing sight…a silent forest, blanketed by fiery orange butterflies. She runs home, vowing to change her life. The butterflies have never come to rural Tennessee before, so the small town is soon overrun with journalists, scientists, and environmentalists, like the one who tried to raise Bellarobia’s global consciousness in the selection, above. Then of course, there is the question of why the butterflies are here. Is it God? Is it nature? Is there a difference?
I used to be a big fan of Kingsolver. I adored Animal Dreams, The Bean Trees, and Pigs in Heaven, so much that I wrote a fan letter. I’d never done that before, and this was in the days of letters, mail, postage stamps and envelopes. I haven’t enjoyed her more recent work as much…I find some of it too preachy. It’s not that I don’t agree with her politics and what she is trying to say. I do. It’s just that I want to read a good story, and sometimes the politics get in the way.
Flight Behavior was more enjoyable to me than other more recent novels. I liked Bellarobia, though of course I didn’t approve of many of her motives or actions. Who wants that in a character? Boring. But I felt like Kingsolver really understands her characters, and she brought them to life for me, and helped me glimpse into a part of the country that I’ve not seen before, a lifestyle that I haven’t lived. I recommend it highly.