by Constance Garcia-Barrio
Mt. Airy musician Lynn Mather lives halfway down a block blessed with old trees, yet she also dwells at a crossroad where methods from different cultures help her live lightly on the earth.
Mather, who gave up her car five years ago, gets around on a light-weight Taiwanese bike. She has ultra-efficient German appliances. An African guest felt at home when he saw Mather saving ashes from her fireplace. “At home we use them to polish porcelain,” he told her. Mather uses them to enrich her garden’s soil and melt ice on the sidewalk in winter.
While Mather draws on approaches from other places, her eco-consciousness is home grown. Born in Lexington, Massachusetts, and a direct descendant of Puritan clergyman Richard Mather, author of “Journal to New England” (published in 1635), Lynn Mather grew up in Maine, Connecticut and western Massachusetts. “In Kittery Point, Maine, my sister Diane and I used to play in the woods behind the house,” said Mather, 69. “I liked to pretend that I was lost and had to survive on simple resources.” (Richard Mather was honored on a 1998 stamp from the U.S. Postal Service.)
Mather also gained a keen appreciation of water in childhood. “We had a well, and sometimes the water was low. My mother always emphasized that water was precious,” said Mather, who has three rain barrels. Her parents, both raised during the Depression, also stressed the value of saving and conserving.
Mather majored in music at Barnard College and moved to Philadelphia in 1968. Her son, internationally known jazz drummer Ari Hoenig, was raised in Mt. Airy. “Ari reports to me on green practices abroad, especially appreciating those in Scandinavian countries, and he likes the practically free bike service in Paris.”
Mather became a familiar face on the local music scene as a teacher and performer, but much of her energy now goes into protecting the environment. In 2011 Mather launched “A Tour and Tales of Green Home Practices: some simple, some old-fashioned, some bizarre, some revolutionary” to share stories of her own green practices. She hopes participants will offer their earth-sparing techniques in response.
Guests receive intriguing pre-tour instructions. “I ask people to bring socks or slippers and a mug for beverages,” Mather said. “Participants leave their shoes at the door so that they don’t track in dirt. That means less mopping or vacuuming, which saves not just electricity, but my personal energy.”
Having one’s own mug helps conserve water. If a host provides mugs or cups, they’re often part of a set and look alike. Guests may become confused about whose mug is whose, and may get another cup to avoid using someone else’s. “You end up washing more dishes and using more water,” said Mather, who runs her dishwasher only about once a month.
Mather extends the bring-your-own principle to restaurants and shopping trips. She always carries her light-weight bamboo dishes and a small utensil called a spork, one end of which is a spoon while the other is a fork. “Suppose we were responsible for our own eating ware all the time, whether at home or abroad,” she said. “Imagine the reduction in trash and costs of energy that would result!”
In addition, she brings her own bags and containers to Weaver’s Way so that the co-op doesn’t have to supply them. “There’s less waste,” Mather said. “Glenn Bergman, the general manager, urges shoppers to bring their own containers, but it hasn’t caught on yet. Fewer bags and boxes would go to recycling or landfills.”
Applying conservation to cooking has brought new flavors to Mather’s kitchen. Ceviche, a seafood dish popular in Ecuador, Peru and other coastal countries for centuries, is perfect for summers here, she pointed out. “You marinate seafood in lemon or lime juice and salt, which ‘cooks’ the fish. You have a meal without turning on the stove and heating up the kitchen.”
Mather’s massaged kale salad spares the environment, yet packs in nutrition. “You massage kale leaves vigorously for about three minutes,” she said. “This breaks down, or ‘cooks,’ the firm tissues of the kale leaves, but the kale remains a lovely green with more bulk than it would have after preparing it with heat.”
Simple practices like soaking beans, grains and dried fruit reduces the cooking time or makes it unnecessary, Mather noted. She favors pressure cookers for the same reason. “It cooks brown rice in one third of the time and lentils in half the time,” she said.
Using less fossil fuel doesn’t have to mean a monastic life. The blinds at Mather’s windows, made of a cream-colored honeycomb fabric, add warmth in winter, coolness in summer, and esthetic pleasure year round. The birch tree out front and the cherry tree by the kitchen window offer shade. “They’re my air conditioning” — and beauty.
Other energy savers have their sensual side. Pressure cookers preserve more flavor, Mather finds. Even avoiding clothes dryers has sensory perks. “I like the scent of clothes dried in the open air,” Mather said, “and there’s enjoyment in the physical activity of folding the clothes. It comes down to using the energy from the sun in a direct way or using it indirectly through fossil fuels that run the dryer.”
Mather’s plans to host “A Tour and Tales of Green Home Practices” in October. For more information, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.