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Earth Day 2017

TALKING TO MYSELF - 22 April, 2017 --  Today is Earth Day, an oxymoron because planet Earth, in its rotation, defines the very meaning of the word day. In the troubled marriage between Man and Mother Nature, however, April 22 has become an annual counseling session. Both express their needs. “Jobs and convenience,” one says. The other responds, “I require more respect.” They talk, and the talking helps. No one gets everything they want, or even need, but compromises are made, and the relationship continues, improved, I believe. I hope.  

 Growing up on a Kentucky farm in the 1950s, I observed my parents practicing what they called good stewardship. It’s a phrase that sounds quaint, even Biblical, to 21th Century ears, but I still love the sound of it. It lacks any political bias, and speaks only of our responsibility to the earth.

Jesse Stuart described his farmer father, Mitch, as a poet of the soil. When I read that I thought of Daddy, for he, too, revered the land. He engaged in rotation farming so that our fertile valleys would not be depleted. He restored the gullied hillsides left by earlier generations with grasses and trees to hold the ground in place. He studied the land and gave it what it needed, when needed. He left our family’s farm better than he found it.

And before I ever heard the word landfill, Mother created one for any trash that would not burn. She would carry it by hand to a sinkhole formed between two hills on beyond the barns, and Daddy would cover it every so often with degradable debris and soil. They would have cut off their right arm before they would have thrown trash into Eagle Creek. Mother also spent her life picking up other people’s garbage from the side of the road. When she got too old to do it herself, she hired others to walk their property line along the highway – probably close to a mile – and pick up the litter others had carelessly tossed from their cars.

Recyling – also a word they never heard – was a way of life to them. They would have called it common sense or being practical, and it had been born of the frugality needed to survive in their Depression era childhoods. Broken things were repaired. Clothing was passed on to others who could use it. If worn completely out, it became the stuff of quilts and scrub rags. Glass jars, paper, buttons, string – oh, you name it, it had a special shelf, drawer, container, and sometimes even an out-building where it was kept until it was called into service again.

They did not have to consider melting polar caps, however, or renewable fuels, and I confess that I wish I didn’t have to either. Greater minds and younger bodies than mine are needed to resolve the current impasse between man’s need for energy, jobs and prosperity versus Earth’s continued good health and vitality. I am reminded, however, that a lot of people, performing small gestures, can make a big difference towards solving any problem.

And so, I do my little things. I plant trees and flowers. I encourage my city officials to plant trees and flowers in public places. I recycle religiously in the container provided for that purpose by our municipal garbage service. I follow my mother’s example and pick up other’s litter when I go for walks in my neighborhood. I donate used clothing, furniture and appliances to organizations that re-purpose them.

I could do more little things, I admit. I could lower the thermostat on my furnace in the winter, but my arthritic joints object. I could drive an electric car, but that learning curve is steep for me, and my community is not yet well equipped to accommodate them. I could consume less of everything – but I am reminded that this is the 21th Century and not the 19th Century of my grandparents. Whatever solutions are found for the environmental problems we face must embrace the realities of contemporary society.

These are my rambling thoughts on Earth Day 2017. For more on the history of this unique annual “teach-in” see here:

http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/earth-day

©Georgia Green Stamper