Thursday, April 12, 2012

Earth Day and the promise of spring

It was probably not an act of genius that inspired the organizers of the first Earth Day in 1970 to choose April as the time to celebrate the planet and lobby for its environmental protection. It is easy to love the Earth in spring: cheery birdsong fills the air as flocks of robins hop after worms in the greening grass, early blooms emerge, leaf buds swell and open, and fiddleheads unfurl from the damp ground, reaching for the strengthening sun.

Spring offers a sense of hope. It is a time – for people and nature – to brush off the dust and dullness of winter and start anew.

Earth Day began as a grassroots environmental demonstration that led to the passing of the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. Now, 42 years later, April 22 is both a celebration of steps made to protect the environment and a reminder that – in an era of over-packaged, over-processed consumerism – there is still much to be done.

I have read two articles this week about the importance of outdoor experiences. One indicated that children who play in the dirt develop stronger immune systems. The other revealed that kids who are involved in nature-based activities at a very young age adopt “pro-environmental behavior” as adults.

Earth day is celebrated by groups ranging from preschools to large environmental organizations. Its message varies from enjoying and exploring nature to reducing pollution and enacting energy efficiency in buildings, vehicles, and businesses. At its root, Earth Day is a reminder that maintaining and protecting natural resources – air, water, wild spaces to explore – is essential not only to human life, but our psyche as well.

What better time to appreciate that connection than spring, when we rush outside to savor the sweet air and sunshine?

Many local communities and organizations coordinate roadside clean-ups this time of year, as melting snow banks reveal a winter’s worth of litter. Businesses offer sales on eco-friendly items. The state Fish and Game Department and Department of Environmental Services team up to host their annual Discover WILD New Hampshire Day, featuring everything from wild animals to hybrid cars.

As a child of the ‘70s, I vaguely remember school discussions about saving the rainforest, and Woodsy Owl telling me to, “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute!” during Saturday morning cartoons. What made a more lasting impression, however, were days spent outside digging in garden dirt and playing in the sandbox, climbing mountains and swimming in clear, cool rivers, exploring the natural places just beyond the backyard and traveling to National Parks across the country with my family.

As a kid, I ran home from school on early spring days, looking for the first crocus in my mother’s garden. Seeing the earliest tiny, purple blossom of springtime was magical and joyful. Now I have children of my own, who love the greenness of summer, the crisp air and kaleidoscopic color of fall, the enchanting snow of winter, and the fresh blooms of spring.

I’m not sure which of us – the children or I – was more excited this spring to spot the first brave crocus poking through the dirt. We all ran to it and crouched down for a closer look. Then we smiled and turned our faces to the sun, stretching toward its warmth and reaching for the promise of spring.

For the Record-Littleton, April 13, 2012

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