Bay Reflections

 Vol. 10, No. 16

April 18-24, 2002

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Our Legacy of Earth Days
by Audrey Scharmen

Once upon a time, before the first Earth Day, there lived in my house one of the hippie kids of that era. He was raised in California in the age of the flower children, and his clothing and hairstyles were considered weird by some of our new Maryland neighbors — as was his high regard for the environment. His appearance was of no concern to me. He was a promising college student raised with a good set of values and high ideals, and so I listened.

I too was passionate about Nature, albeit naively so, never questioning the state of her health or beauty. And I became a kind of apprentice to the Hippie. We talked of global warming and recycling. We rescued doomed saplings from the path of bulldozers and transplanted them in other sites that had been decimated by builders. We planted in our yard a vegetable garden and edible flowers. He taught me to compost leaves and clippings and kitchen refuse. They would evolve into a magic potion to be used to nurture the gardens, he said. (My mother had done something similar in her 1930s’ gardens. She also had recycled tin cans and plastic bread wrappers and meat grease.) There is nothing new under the sun, I told the Hippie.

By late summer, my compost heap had become a wart on the pampered green visage of suburbia. It attracted feral cats. (Thus we added cats to our list of recyclables and kept a couple as house pets.) The neighbors suggested the compost be beautiful or be gone — and they insinuated the Hippie could use some tending as well.

I must admit the hippies had the right idea; we skeptics simply got too late a start. All the passion and lofty talk of Earth Day is meaningless unless everyone participates — and we didn’t. We neglected the recycling of good intentions. Thirty years later there are roaming truckloads of debris still in search of permanent rest. And the environment faces far more serious threats.

The compost heap seems a frivolous measure in this new age. But I still tend it. It is therapeutic, a part of the maintenance of normalcy, part of a life-giving process that has existed since the beginning of time. My wire bin resides, discreet as a mushroom, behind a hydrangea bush in my side yard. There are no raw kitchen scraps, no predatory cats. The smug gardening magazines tell me the compost will spawn lush blossoms and a lawn to rival any chem-treated yard in the neighborhood. Alas, that is not quite so. But my weeds are really green.

So where have all the hippies gone? They grew up to become useful citizens: teachers and lawyers and stuffy congressmen. Mine is conventionally shorn and tailored now, but he harbors still those weird ideas about the environment. After college, he tended for many years a public health clinic in a primitive village of a faraway country. He lived off the land and taught in the area’s first school, which he helped establish. He is one who heard, quite young, what Denis Hayes, organizer of Earth Day 1970, called “the cry of the Earth and came to heal her.” Now as an epidemiologist for the state of New Mexico, he ministers still to our sick old planet and the recycling of precious leavings.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly