The leaf blowers are again populating the seas around my island. Gardeners are digging and planting. Our own landscaper popped around yesterday to survey the winter’s toll and talk to us, through masks and a six-foot distance, about flowers and color. Above the mask, his eyes were alight with horticultural glee. In this part of Texas, gardening is essential, lest whole city blocks get swallowed by voracious plants like a scene from The Day of the Triffids.
This is the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day. Started as a well-meaning ‘hippie’ protest in 1970 and immortalized by one of the great soul songs of all time (Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me”), the holiday somehow holds its fervent place in the pantheon where others like Arbor Day have all but given up the ghost. In the last few years, it has even surged in public awareness due to concerns about global climate change.
I remember the first Earth Day, filtered through the eyes of a ten-year-old who was aware but hardly passionate about the environment. It was a normal Wednesday at Fox Meadow School in Scarsdale NY until at midday our teacher, Ms. Lutz, had us put away our math books and our Weekly Readers for ‘an assembly’. At the time, assemblies usually meant viewing corny public service movies, mostly featuring Jiminy Cricket (or once for reasons no one could explain, the Duncan yo-yo man). Most of our assemblies were on rainy days, but this Wednesday was clear and dewy, so it was a shock when headed not the all-purpose gym that usually served as the auditorium but down the hill to our playing fields. The only times we congregated out there were for fire alarms and the occasional bomb threat (it was the early 70s after all), but all the teachers seemed calm if a little inconvenienced. We stood on the soggy field as our Principal made a speech about the wonders of nature. Then then we slogged back up to our rooms. No cool music, no hippie banners. It was Scarsdale after all. Marvin wasn’t invited to the party.
This year, with the whole world in some form of lock down there will be no parades or rallies. We’ll miss the Flower Power signs (of the optimists) and the skull masks (of the pessimists). But we can revel maybe in the green lushness of the world right now. The skies are clear blue. The birds, untouched by pandemic, are twittering their love songs and jelly fish and dolphins have returned to the canals in Venice. Despite our demonizing of it, it is worth remembering that the coronavirus itself is a part of nature. This holiday for once the Earth has the upper hand.
[This Post was adapted from a essay originally published on Facebook the day listed above]