Apr 22 2011
Earth Day marks the anniversary of a pivotal moment in time, when 20 million Americans took to the streets to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable relationship between humans and the planet. Earth Day founder, Senator Gaylord Nelson, proposed setting aside an official day on the calendar to commemorate the event. His efforts eventually led to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Act.
This year, we have even more serious and global challenges in the form of climate change, peak oil and mass extinction of species. Although no one of us can solve the world’s problems all by ourselves, we can set aside the day to be mindful of our role on Earth, to think about how we may contribute to the healing of our planet, and to take small but important steps lesson our personal impact on the environment.
These steps don’t have to cost anything or contribute to further commoditization (solving problems with more STUFF instead of systematic changes). They can instead contribute to mindfulness, deeper relationships with our friends and family, healthier activities and an appreciation of what we already have. Here are six things you can do to celebrate Earth Day that cost little or nothing:
1. Reconnect with the land by going on a contemplative hike. Recently, a friend of mine told me that she’s met people who have lived in the Denver area their entire lives but never traveled up into the mountains or gone hiking in the foothills. I found this to be astounding and almost inconceivable. How can one look at the mesmerizing views to the west, which change not just seasonally but almost daily, and not want to explore its mysteries and beauty? Many hiking trails are within an hour’s drive of the Front Range suburbs, maybe even as little as 10-15 minutes away, depending on where you live. You don’t need any special equipment to hike most of the trails around town, just a small jug of water and some good walking shoes. If a person has lived along the Front Range and has never gone hiking or exploring in the mountains, they are missing out on blessed silence, the sound of birds that don’t typically reside in the suburbs, fresh air, a sense of peace or wonder or enchantment, or the fragrant whiff of a forest of pine and spruce trees. They are missing out on the access to something timeless, mysterious and wondrous. Nature is neither welcoming nor rejecting. It’s non-judgmental. For this reason, when you’re in the woods or walking through the meadows and canyons, you are free to be yourself and feel whatever you want to feel.
If you live in the Denver area, check out my MeetUp group.
2. Invite friends over to watch an uplifting or thought-provoking movie about nature or the environment. Whatever you feel about nature or animals, someone somewhere has already felt and expressed a similar sentiment. That’s why it’s inspiring to experience the visual arts, film, literature, poetry when they reflect our values and feelings, and share the experience with our friends and family. Earth Day is a great day to go outside, but if you’ve spent the day hiking and just want to relax, pop in a good nature flick and invite some friends over for some local brew. If you plan ahead, you can order these films from Netflix or Blockbuster Home Delivery.
My personal Favorites are the Planet Earth series, Into the Wild, Winged Migration, The Yearling, and The Girl and the Fox, a French film from 2009.
3. Plant some hardy flower or vegetable seeds. Whether you have a garden where you live, or just enough room to put out a clay pot near your front door, late April is the perfect time for many hardy varieties of vegetables and flowers. You can plant pansies, alyssum, peas, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, potatoes, spinach, turnips, cabbage and lettuce. If you can only do pots, then spinach, lettuce and hardy flowers seeds can be planted now. Gardening is relaxing and connects you to the weather and climate of the land, because when you’ve invested time and energy into the soil and into your seedlings. You know exactly when it will rain, how much precipitation your garden received, and ultimately rejoice in a good balance of sun and moisture. There’s nothing like gardening to make a rainy day seem welcome. You’ll become aware of when the nighttime temperatures get above freezing, when the date of the average last frost occurs, and how what exactly constitutes “normal” in terms of climate, from one year to the next.
4. Honor your land by picking up the trash around your neighborhood.
There’s a lot of trash that accumulates along the side of the road near where I live in Westminster. It’s not because people are necessarily littering out of their cars. It’s mostly because of what happens on windy days. Recyclables get blown down the street, paper products fly out of the backs of pickups, dumpsters, and parking lots. Plastic grocery bags get snagged on wire fences and in the branches of trees. It’s hideous, and someone ought to clean it up. Why not take an hour and let that “someone” be you? Who knows, you might inspire someone else to do the same thing.
5. If the weather is nice, eat dinner with your family outdoors, picnic-style, and enjoy the sunset. I actually enjoy eating outdoors this time of year, when it can be warm and pleasant but the bugs and wasps aren’t out in full-force yet. The sun will be setting around 7:40 p.m. on Earth Day in Colorado, so that affords plenty of time to pack a lite dinner and head off to the local park, your backyard, or a nearby picnic area. Challenge yourself and your family to spot at least 5 different kinds of birds or animals while you enjoy your meal.
6. Turn off the TV and computer and pay attention to the nature around you. Nature is everywhere. Your pets are nature. Your friends are nature. YOU are nature. Nature is not something “out there” to be either feared or revered. We are part of the circle of life. Contemplate this. Spend an evening unplugged and really see what you haven’t noticed lately. Ask your spouse or partner what has been troubling them lately or what’s given them joy in the last few days. Write a poem about what you see outside your window. Meditate under a tree. Take a walk around your neighborhood and say hello to the people you encounter. When you make a habit out of mindfulness and outdoor activities, pretty soon you’ll discover that you feel happy anticipating things that cost nothing and require nothing of you: longer and warmer days, trees budding out, the return of meadowlarks and other migratory birds, the smell of the air after a thunderstorm.
Commemorating Earth Day doesn’t have to be about protest, or doom-and-gloom, or angst over societal apathy or stalled political action. Those frustrations can be set aside for a day, while you actually listen to what the Earth is trying to say, what you’re working so hard to accomplish the other 364 days of the year, and why.