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Monday, April 22, 2013

The Good Earth…

litter... and it hurtsThe decade of the 1960s was a turbulent time. I remember those years as some of  the most worrisome of my life. Viet Nam. The draft. Body counts on the nightly news. A human being executed before one’s very eyes…during mid-supper…during mid-bite. Demonstrations shut down I-5 during rush hour. October 9, 1970, a group calling themselves the “Quarter Moon Tribe of Woodstock Nation” claimed responsibility for bombing the UW’s Clark Hall which housed the Naval ROTC program. If you were a college student those days, it was a difficult time to focus on your studies. There is divisiveness in the country today, certainly, but it pales in comparison to the ideological divide of the tumultuous 1960s.

It was during the ‘60s the “Woodstock Generation” realized the power of protest, that youthful voices raised in communal concert were not only heard but listened to. There were “be-ins,” “sit-ins,” to counter the home soil “establishment,” the “military-industrial complex,” corporations like the DOW Chemical Company that saw the Viet Nam “police action” as an opportunity to turn huge corporate profits. DOW’s defoliant “Agent Orange” not only wrought environmental havoc on the jungles of Viet Nam but also caused multiple ailments among those who came in contact with the company’s lethal cocktail.

What tipped the scales and started the Nation on the long road to healing, (a journey that continues still), happened May 4, 1970, at Kent State University, where a protest that pitted young Americans against young Americans turned deadly: young college students vs. young National Guardsmen--college students 0--National Guard 4. I was a first year teacher at the time and though the little town in which I taught was worlds away from Kent State (and just about everything else back then), to this day I remember the horrific event in vivid detail.

Little Winthrop, Washington, portal to the North Cascades Wilderness Area, end of the road (except for Mazama to the north, hardly more than a zip code). Those were the pre-North Cascades Highway days. The nearest hospital and movie theatre were sixty-five miles away regardless if you went east or south. North Cascades Wilderness areaI’m not sure who learned more that year, my students or this fledgling educator. Protest and cultural change reached even our remote outpost. One family involved the ACLU in the Winthrop School District’s dress code. (In this ultra-conservative community even the length of my sideburns was controversial and school staff were reminded that district dress codes applied to them as well.)

April 22, 1970: the first Earth Day. A “teach-in,” it was called, a term with a much more positive spin than the other “ins” of protest. To celebrate this day of homage to the environment, classes at Winthrop High were cancelled but school remained in session.Pasayten Wilderness Students rotated through workshops—mini-seminars—conducted by community members who were in some capacity “superintendents” of the environment. If memory serves, students attended a half dozen of these during the day. A senior smoke jumper representing the U.S. Forest Service conducted one session, talked about the techniques of wildfire suppression. A well known local naturalist conducted another. By the end of the day both staff and students had added two new words to their vocabulary: ecology and ecosystem. I can’t think of a more perfect setting to usher in the very first Earth Day than the beautiful and pristine ecosystem that surrounds Winthrop, Washington.Hart's Pass

Today is Earth Day. The occasion may not show on your calendar (it’s not on ours) but nonetheless across the country environmental awareness will be observed this day in a number of ways, some in our Nation’s public schools, I’m sure. Back in those days of protest, of rising social consciousness, and caught up in the spirit of the times, I wrote the following poem. It was not a good poem ( nor was I a good poet)  and it was written a long time ago. I share it now because  this Earth Day, 2013 , my sentiments remain the same:

                                            God created

                             a place close likened

                                        unto heaven

                             which was called Earth

                                       and let it

                             to a creature of wonder

                                    called Man

                         who replenished it with millions

                                   likened unto himself

                         and subdued it

           with beer cans and DDT and sixteen lane freeways…

                        and jeopardized his cleaning deposit.

Concerning the earth, the land, and respect for it, I recall a passage from Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop and paraphrase it here: “The native people move through the land and leave no trace upon it.”  Today, Earth Day 2013, let us reflect on the environment, our place and role in it, and consider how we can be more in tune with our ecosystems and the Earth, think about the chemicals we spread on our lawns, gardens, and fields and what impact they may have on our water supply and overall good health. And as consumers, for today at least, let us reflect on how we dispose of our excesses, be vigilant  that our castoffs end up in the appropriate landfill or recycling facility. This Earth Day as we go about our daily routines, let us tread a bit more gently, watch where we step and how.trash

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1 comment:

  1. Nice post! We celebrated Earth Day at the CH by working in our garden. So true about taking care of the land so that it will take care of (feed)us. "Leave the soil better than you found it", or something like that was what I heard a farmer once say. Some food for thought or maybe thought for food.