Monday, April 18, 2016

Earth Day, Arbor Day and Rachael Carson

This Walnut is embracing a Cottonwood

 “Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heavens.” Rabindranath Tagore

All of us who garden are acutely aware of our environment. As we dig in the soil, we connect with the magical realm of Mother Earth and the results of our work are the rewards bestowed upon us for our efforts. This April, we celebrate monumental efforts made by others to conserve our precious planet.


First to be considered is our oldest conservation effort, National Arbor Day, which is celebrated each year on April 22nd, the birthday of its founder Sterling J. Morris. Mr. Morris, the publisher of a Nebraska newspaper, began a campaign to encourage his community in the planting of  trees since the plains of Nebraska were almost treeless. By 1885 Arbor Day was declared a state holiday and now it is embraced by all of the states.

Arbor means tree in Latin. The Arbor Foundation annually gives away thousands of trees to individuals and communities. Many Native tribes planted a tree with the birth of a child and watched as both the tree and child matured... a wonderful custom we adopted.

We have Rachael Carson to thank for her efforts to bring to light the hazards of chemical toxicity. A marine biologist by profession, she noted unprecedented losses of plant and animal life and her research concluded it was the result of chemical poisonings. Following WWII,
America embarked on a path of chemical use that was unprecedented and unexplored. Finally banned in 1972, DDT, which killed all insects good or bad, was at first considered a miracle for with it the mosquito became a thing of the past. Neighborhoods full of children were regularly fogged and DDT is now considered one of the most hazardous chemical carcinogens ever created. Ms. Carson lived only a few years past publication of her monumental work ‘Silent Spring’ but her legacy of thoughtful research alerted a grateful nation. The title alone was an ominous prediction of a world without the buzzing of bees, the song of birds, the croaking of frogs, the splash of fish.


Following in her footsteps Senator Gaylord Nelson initiated the concept of ‘Earth Day’. By the early 1960’s America’s love affair with chemicals had begun to take a terrible toll. Environmental degradation was becoming astonishingly evident so Senator Nelson first presented his concerns to President Kennedy in 1962. The evidence was conclusive yet the environment would not be on the political agenda for almost a decade. Finally on November 30, 1969, the New York Times ran an article that began “Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation" thus setting the stage for the first official celebration of ‘Earth Day’. It is expected that Earth Day will be celebrated by over 500 million people in 195 countries.

The enormity of this grassroots effort was the impetus in 1970 for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency whose mission is to protect human health and the environment.

Short of planting a tree this April at least hug one!

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