While my fellow community members were undertaking various “green” activities the Saturday before Earth Day, I was driving solo from the Bay Area up to meet my daughter and her team at a three-day volleyball tournament in Reno. Four hours of gas for one rider – geez, an outrageous carbon footprint.
This was a far cry from the message I really wanted to share with my colleagues for Earth Day. Increasingly, I’ve been encouraging people to pause from all of their eco-activity and environmental advocacy – no matter how worthy – and just spend some time being in nature. Breathe it in. No politics. No science. Just absorb and observe. Be present to what is. To first and foremost love nature before working to help preserve it.
Over the years, the team at Common Knowledge and I have conducted focus groups and program design for worthy environmental projects that aim to influence policy and the public. I firmly believe that we need increased public education about the fundamental interconnectedness of our ecosystems and the decisions we make as a society. There is much to be done. But, perhaps in frustration with the slow pace of progress, many advocates either dial up the crisis rhetoric in the hopes of creating a sense of urgency and/or try to share ever more detailed scientific explanations so people can follow their reasoning. But these approaches often backfire as a crisis weary public is in poor condition to absorb the technical details and little new connection takes place.
I have also seen those who are “true believers” in various environmental causes become paralyzed by guilt and fear. I recall a woman at a talk in West Marin last year who was so distraught about our collective failure to stem global warming that she was having a breakdown right before our eyes, unable to take action for the cause she so clearly cared for. I am equally concerned about those who proclaim their intentions to “save” the earth. Humans are part of a vast system that is so much more than ourselves. We can honor and respect nature – and, yes, mourn the unnecessary damage. But shouldn’t we also be asking what can we learn from earth that gave birth to our species and will be here long after we are gone?
My daughter’s volleyball team and some parents were sharing two condos an hour away from the Reno tournament on Lake Tahoe (yes, more driving). The next morning, Sunday, I got up and the other cabin – the one with the coffee — had not unlocked its doors yet. A bit dispirited, I trudged down to the lake, soon mollified by the unusually warm spring weather. Past the dock, there was a small beach with smooth rocks. I only had to share it with a few geese and ducks splashing nearby. I love rocks and fancy myself somewhat of a connoisseur. After deciding which ones would stack best into a cairn and pleased with my handiwork, I slipped a few extra stones into my pocket. The low slung morning sun bounced off of the water and shimmered on the bushes and trees behind me. I turned to study them; it seemed as if they were dancing. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw it.
A blazing streak against the bright blue morning sky. An iridescent swipe of ivory, green, pink, orange and red. It was over in less than a breath and I was a bit stupefied. Had the dazzling sun played a trick on me? I stood still for what felt like a long time and wondered about the cosmic apparition. A few minutes later I heard a big boom and then the entire earth rumbled under and around the lake.
I walked back up the slope to see if anyone else had heard or felt what I had. A fellow with skis in each hand marched out of the nearest building and claimed complete ignorance of the whole thing. A little up the hill, the condo with the coffee, girls and other moms was now unlocked. Stepping into the noisy scene, I did not tell them what I’d experienced because I was not sure what it was.
Now, courtesy of an AP article, I know that a “minivan” sized meteor with rock that dates back 4 to 5 billion years ago entered our atmosphere at a speed of 25,000 mph or more. It vaporized upon contact with our air, creating the long streak of iridescent light. The boom I heard was the delayed sound of its entry. The impact it had upon landing was estimated to be about 5 kilotons. The article cited the highly unusual nature of one of these meteors moving over an inhabited area and being large enough to be seen in daylight. A NASA expert shared: “You don’t often have kiloton rocks flying over your head.”
So I, who was going to sit out this Earth Day on April 22nd, instead got to have a personal date with a meteor that started out billions of years ago so that I might have a once in a lifetime sighting. If my faith and reverence were flagging, I thank the universe for this exceptional opportunity to witness the mystery. What a fabulous reminder that we can pause in our posting and tweeting to go outside, rain or shine, and learn something from our environment. So please consider spending a little time this week renewing yourself in the comfort of just being in nature. Who knows what experience you may have?
A parting word from Mary Oliver:
“Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.”
Read her wonderful poem Messenger about the “work” of loving the world.
P.S. The title of this piece won’t make sense if you don’t know the jazz standard “My Funny Valentine”; it’s about unconditional love. You can hear Ella Fitzgerald sing it here.
P.P.S. And if you are the kind of person who needs a scientific rationale for the behaviors you choose, here is why canoodling with nature is a good idea: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/06/health/06real.html?_r=2&ref=health