Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day 2010

If you missed it, Ken Burns' documentary on America's national parks featured some stunning footage:

You can see a extended 27 minute preview as well.

When I was in high school, for Earth Day a teacher drove some of us over to a nearby college to hear a speaker. I can't remember who it was, but he said one thing that's always stuck with me about activism in general. He said it was important to fight for the environment, but also essential not to forget to take a break and enjoy it. It could be hiking, canoeing, or a simple walk, but make sure to make time to enjoy what you're fighting for, too.

One of the best things about my childhood was having a creek and woods right behind my house, and a nature center about a ten minutes' hike away. The cultural opportunities from living near Washington, D.C. were great as well. But we spent hours, fairly unsupervised, down by the creek. We took nature classes in the summer at the center (although they did get a bit repetitive). The last time I went back I saw a family of deer. Our family also made a fair number of trips out to the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are plenty of day hikes there, but the coolest ones are probably to some of the falls and bridges. One year we briefly hung out with some rangers checking out a nest of peregrine falcons.

Spelunking with the Boy Scouts was a different side of nature, but it's pretty wild (unless you're claustrophobic), basically rock-climbing underground. We'd go in winter, and had to stay quiet, so as not to wake the hibernating little brown bats, sometimes hundreds of them, sleeping about a foot from our faces as we'd wriggle through a tight passage.

During my brief teaching stints, we'd occasionally take the kids on wilderness trips, normally hiking, but occasionally canoeing. I still remember a canoe trip staying on an island for a couple of days, going out late at night, when the water was much more still, and phosphorescent lichen would make tiny sparks off the paddles. Somehow, my groups drew Mahoosuc Notch twice, sometimes called the toughest mile of the Appalachian Trail. It and the connecting trails aren't the easiest things with a full pack, because some of the rock-face climbs are fairly steep, and the shortest students would struggle to reach the best holds and ledges. Still, there was a great, exhilarating feeling in getting to the top of the toughest rise, and one year the clouds (nice for actual hiking) parted right when we hit the peak. It was lovely. We generally gave the kids some journal time, and other solo time. There are few things like a little solitude in nature for centering and reflecting.

Nature comes in different flavors. I hit the parks and canyon trails fairly regularly here in Los Angeles when I first moved out, but there's less time now and it's easy to let it fall by the wayside. Some people prefer beaches, and I like them too, but I prefer the less crowded kind (one near a theater center in Connecticut was wonderful in that respect). The Grand Canyon is an awesome sight. A body of water is always nice. Still, there's something special to trees and hills and mountains, or at least a proper woods. Growing up in a city can help you learn to run down an escalator or swim through a crowd on a street, but there's also a certain joy in bouncing across the stones in a familiar stream without a second thought.

I've waxed nostalgic here. Earth Day is a great day for activism and community, and there's always the weekend for a hike - as long it's not perpetually sidelined. Because while there are good environmental policies to champion and important battles to fight, one of the best ways to respect nature is simply to take a moment and enjoy it.

Edited for clarity.


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