One fine year, so long ago that telephones had dials and newspapers had news, I celebrated Earth Day. How? By going camping. Duh! Is that not of the Earth?
I climbed a smallish mountain, found a place with an excellent view, started a campfire, and watched the sun set over a nice wilderness scene. Then I sipped (chugged?) cheap liquor and listened to the owls hoot. Simple pleasures are the best. Eventually I drifted to sleep on nice soft pine needles. I’m pretty sure Gaia, if she could talk, would be perfectly happy with a drunk redneck snoozing under a hemlock.
The next morning I hiked out. I had to get to work. (No wonder I couldn’t get along with the Earth Day zeitgeist.) When I stopped for gas I was accosted by a patchouli of hippies. They saw my pack and wanted to know what I’d been up to. “Camping” I smiled, happy and naive, thinking I’d found common ground with an alien species, “because it was Earth Day.”
“Oh no.” Said one. “That’s terrible. You missed everything.”
“Bah.” I waved him off. I’d had fun.
“We had a ceremony. That’s how you celebrate Earth Day.” He continued.
“Me too.” I chuckled. “A fifth of Bourbon while the moon rose. It was great. There’s a neat trail I could show you on my map…”
“We planted a tree!” He interrupted.
This meant nothing to me. I’d planted trees too. It’s a handy way to get… well trees. When I plant a tree it’s a “job” not a “green job”. There are no ceremonies and taxes come out of my paycheck; apparently to fund parks where folks can hold “ceremonies”. I’d planted countless trees by then. (I’ve planted more since.)
“OK.” I let it slide, I was in no mood to get in a pissing match with some freak over a ‘ceremony’.
The feeling wasn’t mutual. “Don’t you care? Deforestation is a big deal.” He was getting into my face and he was obviously displeased that I wasn’t currently hyperventilating about Brazilian deforestation.
(Note: You can date environmental politics by the concern du jour. My last “Earth Day” campout was well after the “coming ice age” but only a few years after the “acid rain freakout”. The “ozone hole attack” was on the horizon but hadn’t yet screwed up air conditioners. Al Gore was busy inventing the Internet and probably had no idea that “global warming” would pay for his cushy retirement. The main concern of the time was deforestation. There was rumbling about boycotting McDonalds hamburgers. If you know anything about Americans you know that particular idea died quickly.)
I don’t like people in my face. Game on!
“You’re going to stop deforestation with one tree?” I waved at the hills beyond the gas station. “What the hell is that?” We were in the middle of a forest. Trees covered a hundred miles in every direction.
“It’s a start!” He whined. He pointed to a big mowed area across the street. There, clearly visible, was a single tree. Chest high. Nicely planted, with stakes to hold it upright and everything.
“No.” I disagreed. “It’s not any damn thing at all.” I was past being polite. “You put landscaping in a mowed lawn where dogs shit and you think you’re a goddamned hero. I’ve planted a couple thousand trees and didn’t need a ribbon cutting to do it.”
Whoops. So much for getting along with my fellow man. I tried again. “If you like the Earth go out and play in it. I spend more time outdoors than in. It’s really…” words failed me “…pretty.”
I’d meant to expose the fellow to the idea that all is not lost. That one can embrace the joy of nature without feeling guilty. That a college student in America weeping over a tree in Venezuela doesn’t make a difference to Venezuela or the tree. Something about lighting candles and cursing darkness. Unfortunately, I’d blown it. He was destined to go home and weep. I pictured him in his parent’s basement; listening to The Cure and staring at posters of Ralph Nader. Or maybe he’d seethe in righteous indignation at the troglodyte who was so insensitive that he preferred owls hooting in the moonlight to a ceremony in a park. In the ensuing decades little has changed. There’s no shortage of folks who would gladly shuffle flannel clad rednecks like me into re-education camps with the deeply held belief that this is both righteous and ecologically wise. Personally, I think they’d benefit from an afternoon fishing but what do I know?
Some cultural gulfs cannot be bridged.
“You just don’t get Earth Day!” He stammered.
“You’re right.” I agreed. I grasped for something nice to say; a way to salvage the moment. “Enjoy your tree.” Nope. That wasn’t it. So I left.
I’ve since stopped deliberately celebrating Earth Day. I spend plenty of time in nature. Who needs a “day”?