Earth Day

From my sketchbook. My husband regarding the earth from a Shenandoah Valley peak.


Today is Earth Day, a day on which we attempt to recall that Mother Earth is the source of all life and nourishment and that we ought to stop greedily stuffing ourselves with her resources and dumping toxic waste all over her. Human beings are clearly a bunch of sloppy ungrateful thankless brats. What’s a mother to do? Lose her cool? Blow her top?

A holiday to celebrate the Earth was proposed in 1969 by peace activist John McConnell and was originally, and logically, intended to be celebrated on the Equinox, around March 22nd. In fact the first Earth Day WAS celebrated on March 22nd, 1970, in San Francisco, California.

However, U.S. Senator Gayelord Nelson of Wisconsin had, coincidentally, planned an environmental awareness day to take place that same year, on April 22nd. This event coordinated the efforts of a number of autonomous grass-roots environmental groups who had been working independently of one another on different issues for a while—air and water pollution, oil spills, pesticides, loss of green space, extinction of species, various other environmental disasters—and who recognized their common purpose. The April 22nd event received more attention and thus determined the future “official” date. It was a movement in embryo just waiting for its birthday. Millions participated in the celebration, all over the country.

Only a few years earlier Rachel Carson had been vilified for her condemnation of DDT; now the brand-new Environmental Protection Agency burst onto the scene. Then the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Followed by a slew of environmental legislation: The Clean Air Act. The Water Pollution Control Act. The Safe Drinking Water Act. The Endangered Species Act. The Toxic Substances Control Act. Then we got fuel efficiency standards for cars. That one’s been harder for Americans to get used to, given their love of enormous cars, and their increasingly enormous rear ends. It’s amazing how quickly things moved along in the first decade (grinding to a standstill and retreating for a while in the 80s under the Reagan “You’ve Seen One Tree You’ve Seen Them All” administration).

In 1990 Earth Day was declared an annual national holiday, and it went global. Now it’s a huge international event marked by every conceivable environment-friendly related activity. “The environment” is no longer a fringe issue. We recycle, we compost, we buy organic, we conserve water, we take public transportation, we use the energy-efficient bulbs with their repellent prison-like glow. (I am told they are getting better.) Living green is not only socially acceptable; it’s a Madison Avenue device to sell more products (kind of defeats the goal of preserving the environment). The White House, the EPA, the National Park Service, Greenpeace, National Geographic, every community large and small (except perhaps the NRA), you name it, has its Earth Day events, publicized on their websites, through which citizens can do something to educate themselves and/or make a difference. I am going to tell my own neighbors about two of them right now:

April 22nd, 2010: 7:00pm at the Cleveland Park Library, Melanie Choukas-Bradley, author of City of Trees, will give a talk about the botanical history and diversity of Washington, DC. For more information, please call (202) 282-3080.

April 24th, 2010: 9 to 11am, a neighborhood ivy-pulling-and-trash-cleanup event in the park along Rock Creek Drive and Normanstone Drive. All ages. For more information, please email

I hope you are finding a useful and jolly community event in your own neighborhood. And remember…“every day is Earth Day.”



One thought on “Earth Day

  1. I keep coming back to this one. It’s lovely, creates a sense of very wide space and has some of the feel of a Chinese landscape.

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