Earth Day at 50: I Forgot It Was Earth Day

Will Vuyk, WI Green Fire, April 28, 2020

A storm gathers over a lake in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest near Medford.  
Photo: Will Vuyk
A storm gathers over a lake in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest near Medford. Photo: Will Vuyk

I forgot it was Earth Day. When I woke up, the 50th anniversary of Senator Nelson’s momentous event was lost in the frazzled lightning storm pulsing within my skull. Please forgive me.

The spring peepers sung with purpose and vigor this morning, heralding the advent of April 22nd – but I was deaf to the date. The birds expressed their joy with formations in the sky, as they migrate thousands of miles across the surface of our Earth – yet I didn’t get the hint (of all creatures they should know, right?). The seeds, at the end of their patience, finally split open; their sprouts shooting like fireworks with cotyledons held high in praise – to what? The environmental movement of the 70’s did not cross my mind.

In truth, had I been in South America to hear all the insects in the Amazon awake in a triumphant symphony, trillions of bodies eagerly grinding music from chitin at invisible speed, I still would have missed the special significance of this day.

Nevertheless, let me defend my groggy neurons. In the spring, these things happen with regularity.

As I got dressed in the morning, there was hail flying outside my window. Once I made it down the stairs, I was blinded by the sun reflecting off my neighbor’s siding. Even this would not alert me, or anyone who has lived in Wisconsin – as John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Gaylord Nelson all did – to the importance of today.

COVID-19 doesn’t seem to care, as it continues to ravage human society. Like macabre birdsong it wakes us up every morning with more pain, but it too is of the Earth. Perversely, when I opened my browser to check on the progression of the pandemic, it was Google (of all of this planet’s denizens) that told me the news: today, Wednesday April 22nd, is Earth Day.

And so today did become significant, not because the Earth is somehow more special than it was yesterday, but because it made me think.

Why does what Google tells me once a year carry more weight than what nature communicates constantly? The frogs, birds, plants, and insects continually remind me of my love for the earth. The weather our planet creates can leave me in awe. COVID-19 reminds me daily that something is wrong and that we need to fix it. Is not every day Earth Day?

April 22nd, while many take it as a time to express love and take action, is also a moment to reflect on our values and be inspired by the victories of those before us. It is a testament to the United States’ environmental conscience that Earth Day has commanded a place on the calendar every year since its inception in 1970. The gains made by the environmental movement since then cannot be understated – they have transformed the country. However, in our present peril, we cannot let Earth Day simply become a holiday of past generations’ passion and achievement.

For the future, the spirit of Earth Day should exist within us every day we still find the Earth below our feet, regardless of whether or not we are conscious of the exact date. It should spur us to continually think, struggle with, and act upon the endless inspiration we derive from nature – as I have attempted today.

The frogs and the insects will not perform their glorious orchestras in our name, the birds will not write messages of joy in the sky for us to read, and sprouting plants will not praise our effort, but the Earth will thank us with their continued presence, nonetheless. Earth Day should be an everlasting internal reminder that while the Earth may constantly evoke our amazement, we must act so that we, and those not yet alive, may have the opportunity to love the planet as we do now.

 

Will Vuyk studies biology at UW Madison, with an interest in wildlife ecology. He has had extensive experience volunteering with environmental research and education projects in Wisconsin and abroad. He is interested in creating opportunities for people to experience the natural world and participate in citizen science. Will is a student member of Wisconsin’s Green Fire.

 

 

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