The Off Season: Truly ‘observing’ Earth Day

Mike Lunsford photoIn nature: Soak in the sun to really celebrate Earth Day.

An interesting quirk of the calendar leaves Earth Day as my chosen subject today, and I have to admit that although I love to write about the natural world, I sat at my desk a good while late last week and chewed on poorly-made coffee, a knuckle, and an idea as to how to approach the topic yet again.

It may be coincidental, but a reader kindly suggested recently that I write too often about nature — birds, in particular. I didn’t think that was possible, especially when I consider where I stood early one evening in mid-month. Out for my usual walk, I paused to watch a pair of snow white egrets sitting side-by-side in the rotting branches of a wetlands tree. The wind blew through their breeding plumage as they stared stolidly into the distance, and I felt I was seeing something special by just being in the right place at the right time, by simply being an observer.

I find the soil on which we live, and its birdsong and breezes, its woodland flowers and falling autumn leaves to be more interesting than the latest political and social media noises, although I acknowledge that most of the news is urgent and dire, yet on some occasional instances, promising and uplifting too.

People can, and do, disagree on many things, but one clear truth we had better wrap our heads around soon is the attention our planet needs; if not, all the trending headlines imaginable will become moot. That is what Earth Day is designed to do: to prod us into action, to tidy up the messes we are making in our own back yards. I am not excluding myself from the urgency of that message.

I sloshed through a marsh one recent sunny and warm day; it is a mucky and stinking place that challenges the limits of my water-tight boots. It is ticky and scratchy and filled with decay, yet it is an incredibly important place, for it acts like a sponge that filters the water and air of the things we belch and spew into our environment. Its soupiness is a testament to the resiliency of the Earth to clean itself if we will give it, and other places like it, the time. Similar are our overgrown fence rows and forests, our ditches and briar patches, yet they, and the life that prospers in them, are the first things we “clean,” clear-cut, drain, mow, pave over, and spray.

I am convinced that if we truly pay attention to nature, really feel it, as a handful of sand; stick our noses into it, as in the musky green scent of creek water; and hear it, like the staccato jackhammer of a woodpecker, we would not be so near the precipice of climatic calamity. We protect the things we love, and we need to love what we’re standing on, and make a few sacrifices for it. If that means a little effort at picking up our own trash instead of waiting for our neighbors to do it, or refusing an extra “disposable” grocery bag, then so be it.

Earth Day was established in 1970 by Wisconsin Congressman Gaylord Nelson, the tipping point for his decision coming after he’d witnessed the carnage of a massive California oil spill. In buttoned-down collar and dark-rimmed glasses, he urged Americans to believe in the democratic process and vote for environmental change; he even promoted the shocking idea that part of the massive military budget — mostly being spent on a war in Southeast Asia at the time — be re-dedicated toward an effort to save the planet.

“There is a great need for the introduction of new values in our society, where bigger is not necessarily better, where slower can be faster, and where less can be more,” Nelson said.

Are his words any less true now than a half-century ago?

We don’t have to be biologists to appreciate the land; we simply can’t afford to be lazy any longer. A few nights ago I listened to Lorrie Heber, director of the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College. She said that people often feel the issues surrounding climate change appear so big that an overwhelming hopelessness keeps us from doing anything at all. But quoting a favored meme, she also said, “It’s just one plastic straw, said eight million people.”

“It will take the actions of each of us, large and small, to slow climate change and its impacts on virtually everything on our Earth, our only home. Being mindful is the key,” Heber says. “We have to think about our consumption and ask ourselves not only, ‘Do I need this?’ but, ‘What will become of it when I’m done with it?’”

As we “observe” Earth Day, maybe we can appreciate it even more if we experience the term literally, today, this week, this month, by pausing a while to soak in the green of spring, to notice that which normally goes unnoticed, to think of the world we are leaving for our children and grandchildren.

You can reach Mike Lunsford at; his website is at For more about Earth Day, go to Learn more about the White Violet Center at Mike will be speaking and signing at the Worthington-Jefferson-Township Library this Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

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