April 26, 2015

What goes around, comes around

The Columbia Earth Day celebration was rained out last week. Seems fitting, in a way.

Rain is the epitome of recycling: Raindrop to stream, stream to ocean, ocean to cloud, cloud back to raindrop. Repeat for a million years or so.

Earth Day is very special to me. I was a freshman in college in 1970 when θ -- the Greek letter theta – began appearing on bumper stickers and posters. Theta on a green field was the new symbol for ecology, which itself was a term that never made it into my textbooks.

By April, I was wearing the symbol myself and part of the organizing team for Earth Day 1 at Shasta College in my hometown, Redding, CA. I have seldom felt so proud as when I carried the giant θ-emblazoned flag as we marched through downtown.

It tell that story to my students now and their eyes roll. Few know what “Earth Day” means – nor do they care. I suppose I should be upset, but I’m strangely pleased. Their ambivalence means that hippie-haired gaggle of protesters in 1970 succeeded. We changed the world.

Earth Day did not arise to promote hemp seed, belly dancing and henna tattoos. It came on the heels of warnings by Rachel Carson, Paul Ehrlich and others that we might not make it to our dotage unless we started taking care of our world.

In my hometown, the lumber mills burned their waste in huge “teepee burners,” which likely were not as bad noxious clouds from the burning garbage dump. Clear Creek, near my home, was anything but and lined by 20-foot-high rows of gravel left behind by the dredges that plowed the valley for gold nuggets.

The national picture was bleaker. I remember my eyes burned and I hacked up brown gook while visiting Los Angeles. The Potomac in our capital was known as the river you could smell before seeing. Bald eagles were fantasy creatures – on the verge of extinction from the effects of DDT pesticide.

So we marched. Better yet, we voted. And year by year, life not only went on, it got better.

Now my students watch bald eagles glide over the Missouri River, put their cans in city-provided recycling bags and think DDT is a rap group. Blissfully.

And Earth Day? Just a rain delay. The anger was mostly gone, replaced by gardeners, solar panel salesmen and kids with face paint. But you can’t keep a good movement down.

Like a raindrop.