The Earth (Day) and Me

Edith writing from north of Boston where, as usual, April presents whiplash weather as well as lovely flowers. One day it’s 72 out and I’m wearing sandals. The next day’s high is 39, I don my lighter winter coat to go walking, and get snowed on coming home.

Last Thursday was my fiftieth Earth Day. (Yes, I know it was the fifty-first, but bear with me.)

Ed Muskie at the 1970 Earth Week. Photo permission from Peter54321, CC BY-SA 3.0

In April 1971 I’d been back from an exchange student year in southern Brazil for three months. I was living at home and attending community college until I could start at the University of California Irvine in the fall.

My next older sister was already a student at UCI, and I would occasionally drive Daddy’s VW bug the hour south to spend a few days with her. She and her friends, as well as my fellow students, were talking about the “Ecology Movement.” Saving the environment and living simply made a lot of sense to me, especially living in the smog pocket that was the San Gabriel Valley (can you say inversion layer?), an area to the east of Los Angeles. And signs were going up all over Pasadena City College about Earth Day celebrations.

I decided it was wasteful to drive the family car to school. I bought a used boy’s no-speed bike and cycled the six and a half miles uphill from Temple City to Pasadena every day. Oh, to be eighteen again! I started buying my jeans at thrift stores and turning off lights.

Earth Day Flag from Dcoetzee, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I fully participated in the 1971 Earth Day festival at PCC. I kept using a bike for transportation through college and grad school and to my first few jobs.

Now, fifty years later, what has changed? Well, there’s good news and bad news.

On the personal front, I’ve been composting and recycling for decades, plus hanging the laundry on the clothesline when weather permits.

Our driveway holds two older-model Priuses. I still buy some of my clothes at consignment shops. I walk everywhere I can, doing my errands while I get my exercise (and plotting the next scene). We have solar panels on the roof and an organic garden behind the house. My adult children are highly eco-conscious and active, reducing their carbon footprint more than I do in some areas.

But Hugh and I also live in a three-bedroom (albeit modest, insulated, tight-windowed) house with three laptops and two cell phones and a television (his) and a microwave and lights and heat and all that entails. We are possibly overconsuming.

Everybody around me seems to drive giant vehicles that they leave empty and running while they go into a store. Our town provides twice-a-month recycling, but some of my neighbors never put out a bin, instead stuffing multiple trash barrels every week. The oceans are filling with plastic refuse, from discarded bags to micro-beads. Climate change is a real thing, endangering birds, animals, and coastal dwellers, to name a few. What kind of a climate am I leaving my sons and future (hopefully) grandchildren? All the rest of the children, all the rest of the world? Can we realistically turn global warming around?

Gah. This post is getting too depressing. Sorry. How does it relate to writing, you might fairly ask?

Without being pedantic about a social issue, I can certainly channel those feelings of hope and pessimism into characters. I can write a character who observes someone else acting differently with respect to climate habits (or any life choice) and reacts according to that character’s personality. Maybe I’ll have Robbie Jordan’s Aunt Adele or Mac Almeida’s grandmother Reba talk about the first Earth Day and about what it meant to her at the time. I can definitely describe a clothesline fanatic (write what you know…). And more.

See? For fiction writers, it’s all material!

Readers: What’s your experience of Earth Day? Do you try to take steps to help the environment?

23 Thoughts

  1. I live eight miles from town. When the Chestertown Ukulele Club was invited to perform for Earth Day in recent years prior to Covid, I dutifully made the trip to town, stopping at the booths before and after our performance. I vaguely recall there being a parade some years and on-stage performances others, but I don’t really keep track of such things.
    (The wind must really be blowing as the treetops are swaying.) I reluctantly have shifted the thermostat to 72*F/20*C (I had kept it at 68*F/18*C for years) as 72-year-old bones ache when they are cold and there are only so many layers one can wear and still be able to move about. I’ve limited my gardening as the surrounding trees limit the available sunlight for food production, plus my medication warns against prolonged exposure to the sun. I’ve recycled, composted, and used a clothesline even before the first Earth Day. With the Covid shut down, I think my actual miles traveled in the past year were about 1,500. If I could keep to that number consistently, I would not need to visit the Vehicle Emission Inspection Program station after I make this year’s trip. But I MISS hugs and I do have other talents beyond reviewing books. I think I now have as many ebooks as the number of books I had to recycle through the library, etc. when I downsized the trailer 11 years ago. Back to the remaining 7,838 unread emails…

  2. I wish I could walk to do my errands, but since it’s 15 miles to town, that’s not happening. I do try to combine all of my errands and appointments into the same day of the week so I only have to take the car out once instead of multiple trips. Also, I was getting really good at taking my reusable bags to the store with me…and then the pandemic hit, and I switched to curbside pickup. Hopefully, I’ll soon be back to using my canvas totes again.

    1. Our grocery store didn’t allow customers to bring their own bags for several months last year, but now they do (we go inside to shop during the senior hour from 6-7 AM).

  3. Fifty-one years ago my friend Susie and I climbed on my parents’ tandem and biked 4.5 miles to school – up hill. Hubs and I recycle, have an organic garden, compost, and actively seek out the lowest carbon footprint items. We also eat organic when possible. That said, we are 10 miles from town, we heat with wood much of the time which is a two-edged sword, and try to do what we can when we can.

  4. Hubby and I do our part, as much as we can, to reuse and recycle. Never to be one that has to have the next new thing, we seem to be the only ones that don’t change phones when the new one comes out (I only changed from my flip phone in December of last year when it could be fixed any longer), has to have the bigger and better TV (again when we replaces our was because the old only had no sound and we couldn’t find anyone to fix it) and better TV or keeps up with “styles” (wearing what we find comfortable and neither of us like shopping for clothing, We try to recycle as much materials as we can, which is very hard in our area since what little recycle center we had closed during Covid and recently announced they can’t reopen. We collect pop cans and take them by a biker’s recycle to help abused children (30 miles) when we are traveling that way headed to doctor appointments. What we don’t use or haven’t used in some time, goes to the resale shop to help the local animal shelter. We recycle cardboard and newspaper in the spring garden making a lining in between plants which keeps weeding down and moisture in. We collect seeds from our plants and start our next years crops from those seeds. I am aware when making purchased to avoid as much plastic as we can when other sources are available. Locally it’s been in the paper about complaints of families putting out as many as 20+ bags of garbage on trash day. We as a general rule have one the one and can’t understand how a family could possible use that much to have that much garbage. It’s unthinkable that they can’t see way to help the ecology and their kid’s and future generation’s future!

    We ALL have to do our part!
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  5. I had switched to reusable bags and then…pandemic. I do drive a Prius Prime (this is their plug-in variety). I do worry about electric usage, but I don’t seem to use much more. And while I would love to go solar, I compromised and at least get “clean” wind-generated electricity. I switched to a plant-based laundry detergent in a cardboard box. I am thinking about trying those laundry “strips,” but I wish I didn’t have to buy 96 of them to try them out.

  6. I started recycling regularly in response to the horrific images in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez disaster. To this day, I can see the images of the oil-covered birds. Along with recycling, we use reusable shopping bags and I drive a Honda Insight hybrid.

  7. We recycle. We also planted a garden of native plants including a patch of milkweed and raise and release butterflies every summer

  8. When I lived near Cal State Bakersfield, we made an annual event of their Earth Day celebration. I loved it.
    I vividly remember in grade school the scientists warming of ecological disaster on the horizon. That was 55 years ago. I try not to dwell on all that has come true and is still coming true. There are things that are better. Not much, but some. Ok, very depressed now.

  9. We made the decision to compost when we built our present house twenty years ago and did not have a disposal installed in the kitchen sink. The plumber and I had a talk about it and he still put in some plumbing “in case” you change your mind. We did not change our minds and happily compost. Our city uses wind power generated electricity and we planted drought resistant native plants in our front garden. No grass for us to drink lots of water. Earth Day is everyday around here. Taking care of our little plot is the best thing I know to do and we drive only when we must…more fun to stay home and read a good book! 😉

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