Now, I’d be the last person to speak ill of Earth Day. In it’s 45th year, with tons of opportunities for action throughout the city including the first ever Climate Action Festival at Seattle Central, this is a focused and benevolent movement, not another of the ridiculous panoply of “official days,” As much as I intend to do my part on Earth Day and participate in events that bolster community around the environment, I’d like to suggest another activity for the day. Knowing a slice of your environment.
There are many things that confuse our ability to protect the planet we live on. We over-consume daily, we muck up or pave over wild spaces, we massage the hubris that we can control everything or solve problems solely with technology. A pessimistic part of me looks at how humans on the whole behave, and suggests that we learn as much from our history and past generations as say fruit flies (averaging 10 days per). We can’t expect one lone day to change everything, and yes, most people don’t expect it to, but I can’t help but feel we could do more.
I have an alternative to the environmental activism or restoration events that most Earth Day events encompass. It doesn’t have to take all day, nor does it have to cancel your other Earth Day plans. First, go outside without any distracting gadgetry (binoculars are allowed). Find something to focus on, a plant, a wild animal, even a rock. Now think about it, roll it around in your mind’s eye. What are the defining features? If its an animal, what is it doing? If it’s a plant or a rock, maybe use your sense of smell or touch (or at your own risk, taste, I’ve seen geologists eat chalky soil). Try to learn as much as you can without caring about a scientific name or key facts the internet might provide. Contemplate it. Now that you’ve done that, maybe you can try to learn a thing or two, even using your phone, but keep that thing in mind.
In my mind, a systemic issue in our fight against environmental catastrophe is that we don’t connect with nature enough. People are afraid of dirt and bugs, they don’t know any native birds let alone notice them, we’re taught to look but not touch. These rants and ideas are nothing new.
What if on Earth Day, we could take the time to look at a second growth Douglas Fir (our most common native conifer) growing in a Capitol Hill greenbelt, and really notice it?
Notice the furrowed armor of bark, swelling thick to protect from fire and insects. Notice how birds eat the seeds in their cones, search for insects amongst their limbs, nest high in their branches. Notice the fresh green tips of new growth that taste of citrus (and are a great source of vitamin c). And then learn that these trees have been found growing to heights of almost 400 feet, stretching up to 20 feet in diameter at their base (though extant specimens are substantially smaller). Learn that they can live in excess of 1,000 years (and let go of what people were doing then for comparison, just appreciate a species that can live that long). With this little knowledge, you’ll likely have found a little respect.
I don’t think everyone needs to be as in love with birds or plants as I am, but I’d like it if you could walk down the street and pick out one natural thing you know and appreciate it. Know a few things about it and be able to tell a friend. It’s small, it’s simple, and most people are curious enough that they’ll want to learn more.
Earth Day can go about its business with or without this of course. But I’m more afraid of a world without fellow humans (contemporaries and future) who interact and understand even a modicum of their environment first hand, than I am afraid of a world without Earth Day. If we can’t find ways to physically connect with nature, then trying to save it will be next to impossible. Earth Day then becomes a nebulous event where we talk about things we don’t understand but have a sneaking suspicion we should save, and not just for our sake. I want you to pass by a Douglas Fir and think, “I know that tree and I’d like to see it for my entire life,” instead of, “Shit, the seas are rising and I should write my representatives.” OK, maybe do both.