Earth Day 50 reflections

Here we are and it’s Earth Day 50 this time, so unlike a single one of the previous forty nine observances.  

Circumstances for me as this Earth Day rolls around involve sharing a home in California’s Central Valley with my daughter, her husband and their almost nine-month-old son — my first grandchild and a small little big guy who brings new life, energy, insight and joy.   So much has changed since I last wrote anything for my blog, and Dante’s arrival  at the end of July 2019 is the happiest of happy events.

We roll and stroll (me in my wheelchair and him in his mother’s carrier) around a few blocks every day with Elf the Corgi, who recently observed her tenth birthday.  Although we inhabit a development of closely packed houses there are still beautiful mature trees and gorgeous flowers, even a little drainage pond where  birds congregate — me being a lifelong birdwatcher.  

Dante watches Elf chew off some grass beneath the front yard acacia tree, in March 2020

The only open land left around here for the wild creatures and the enjoyment of humans who like that sort of thing is slated for multi-family dwellings. That’s California for you. And here are we, living in one of those brand new houses built on what was once agricultural land. There are large numbers of homeless living in some of the vast orchards, among other places. What can this Earth Day be like for them?

One recent day my daughter chided me for sighing over the mistletoe parasite that is killing most of the red leaved ornamental plum trees along certain sidewalks.  “Just look at all the trees that aren’t dying, Mom!” she said.  Oh… I was just focused on life cycles, was my thought.  People are a bit like trees, so it is good to strengthen our defenses  lest we become overwhelmed and perish.  Perhaps due to the intense parasitic divisiveness of this period.

I mean the intense oppositional thoughts that had been choking the life out of social media and in-person relationships right up until the time the novel corona virus hit us like armies of bulldozers.

Where is courtesy when we need it? Could it be making a comeback in this difficult time? There are plenty of stories of people going the extra miles to help one another out now, which is restorative to flagging spirits.

Another day I sighed over two very large trees which had recently been cut down for what seemed to be no good reason, and she said, a bit more vehemently, “Look at all the ones that didn’t get cut down!”

Oh.  Well, I and my shades-of-grey mentality are working on that, as we slip into our second month of being locked up at home. This global pandemic that has brought life as we knew it to its knees.  The realization grows more staggering, to me at least, when I consider that it’s not just so in my town, my county, my state, my country, my hemisphere.  The thing, like a natural catastrophe on steroids, is simply omnipresent, everywhere, wreaking damage.  Not the virus bug alone, which is frightful enough, but even more for the permanent changes it is likely to create in the lives we — humans in general — have known for, well forever in our lives.

It’s what one might call an act of God.

Even I, who am one of the INFJ introverts who cherish solitary reflection time and would prefer reading a book at home to attending a large public gathering, have grown weary of being cooped up.  Yesterday was a giddy day for me — I had to go to the drive-through pharmacy for a prescription.  Whoopy doo!  Looking at the ranks of glorious crimson roses surrounding the parking lot was a heady experience.

For, as far as I can presently tell, being over seventy is one of the risk factors for covid 19 likely to keep me quarantined till there’s a vaccine.  Such sobering realizations go a long way towards expanding one’s inherent enjoyment of the company of others.

It’s important to keep the mind busy now, however, so here am I slowly building up my Spanish and even more slowly giving my nerve-damaged hands some therapy and, hopefully, more strength, by learning to play ukulele.

Dante is the dearest, most uncritical audience imaginable.  He’s like a glowing candle when he watches me with my boat paddle uke. It is the right size for a person in a power wheelchair, unlike the classical guitar I used to play in a former life. It’s name is Ook.

Our home buzzes with the sounds of the washer and dryer taking care of cloth diapers, fills often with yummy scents wafting from my daughter’s Instant Pot and with the good music of Son-in-Law’s guitar and singing — a sound dearly appreciated by young Dante, who keeps the rhythm as best he can.  Francisco works from home for now, as a journalist, Jericha is a home-based mom, and I am retired so you could say that the stay-at-home orders are not awfully disruptive — except that we MISS seeing people, despite Zoom and Google Hangouts.  We do thank heaven for those gifts of technology, and I am personally grateful not to be using them from Antarctica, where there is no coronavirus (so far) but man, what a climate!

Which brings me round again to Earth Day 50.

Francisco just researched and wrote a story for the music industry magazine he works for about Earth Day.  It’s a look back over movers-and-shakers of the music industry and how they’ve promoted Earth Day for five decades.  Take a look at it, if you like, here

Earth Day began in the same spring as I graduated from Boston University’s School of Communications (then known as School of Public Communication).  Memories of that first occasion for drawing attention to needs of our common planet are still powerful to me. There were the fragrances of spring in Boston Public Garden with its graceful swan boats, and along the Promenade on the stinky Charles River.  People were getting worried about toxic buildup in Massachusetts Bay and the heavy smog over the city, among other things.  There was, for me,  bemusement on finally completing four long years of work towards becoming a tax paying citizen.

If there had been any means of catching a glimpse into what Earth Day 50 would look like from back then surely I would have sat down more numb and dumb than I already was at the cancellation of my graduation ceremony due to the potential for violence around the country.  By now the Vietnam War, the shooting of unarmed students by members of the Ohio National Guard, the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, civil rights, Malcolm X, women’s liberation, and the widely misunderstood rise of the Black Panthers are not things most people think about too often — but the groups I hung with at the time were obsessed.  The death of my brother and his friend in a shocking car wreck occurred several weeks after the first Earth Day, somewhat blurring my perspective.  They died just a couple of days before my scheduled college graduation. My brother’s sports car hit a large oak tree, of all things…

So what a year, for me.  The memories remain vivid. Environmentalism was just a bud in my mind back then, but how well I remember the birds who, with their bright colors, lovely calls and inquisitive ways gradually drew my attention into the greater web of life, starting right in our Massachusetts back yard. Later on I would make a living carving birds, painting them with oils and selling them through art shows and galleries. No great sales person, I would share with my customers stories of the birds’ habitats, life cycles and so on.

I would have been much more numb than those events in 1970 had already made me, had I foreseen changes to the planet that have essentially come from excessive use of various resources and inventions. Scientists recently estimated that this country has lost one third of all the birds it had back when I was first beginning to notice the little creatures. That’s a few billion birds, gone and not replaced in our times. Mostly lost to development (including collisions with glass in buildings), disappearance of habitats, and cats.

Still, I am heartened by uses of social media for bringing people together now that such a catastrophe as covid 19 has overtaken the world.  It’s great that there will be virtual concerts for three days of Earth Day events.  You can’t plant trees or clean rivers virtually, but you can think about the meaning of Earth care, you can make plans for once we’re out and about again.  We can perform acts of service in honor of the ones who haven’t made it through this terrible disease — in honor of ourselves, if we wish to. What’s important is to expand beyond our own boundaries, so long as we haven’t been so dragged down by all this that the only thing we can think about is getting the bare necessities of life.

My hope is that some of these events can strike a kind of call to action amongst a significant number of people:  to fight for Earth’s well being together as urgently as to overcome covid 19 together, with warm hearts and minds eager to find new ways of doing things.

Just be open to it. Look where the old ways have gotten us.

It is taking the earth-wide Covid 19 pandemic to lay stress on two important matters as we approach the first Earth Day without any public gatherings, no concerts for thousands, nobody clearing trash from rivers or planting trees.  First, that no one country, or even group of countries, is able to effectively halt the worst pandemic in a hundred years — and second, nor can they, alone, make significant alterations in the way we treat our habitat.  For these solutions, people have to work together.

The alternative is to keep spiraling round and round, with no end in view.

From various articles I have read it would seem that the excessive exploitation of Earth is linked with the increase in pandemics over the past fifty years.  This is a great deal to think over.

These are the things I think about here with the little grandson, the ukulele and the Spanish. We’ve got to keep on growing.

I end this blog with a brief passage from Baha’i writings:

It is incumbent upon every man of insight and understanding to strive to translate that which hath been written into reality and action…. That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race. The Great Being saith: Blessed and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth. 

In another passage He hath proclaimed: It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.  ~ Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh

An orb of a swallowtail butterfly on a desert willow, in my New Mexico backyard a few years ago.

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