Saturday, April 23, 2011

Earth Day Reflections

brand new radish sprouts
"Working with the soil doesn't automatically endow a man with either wisdom or philosophy, but it does make him aware of orderly sequences such as night and day, summer and winter, bud, blossom, and seed. And of such certainties as life, death, and change. Knowing these things, a man can live with himself and probably get along with his neighbors." --Hal Borland, nature writer, 1900-1978

It's not easy to sum up my sentiments on Earth Day. Like everyone else, I have a complicated relationship with the earth. Here in New England, bare ground has been veiled by snow in recent months, making my connection to the earth more obscured. When the snow retreats and the ground warms, I am eager to make that most simple connection again of skin to soil. This connection is primary to my sentiments on Earth Day, and indeed, it's the reason I'm making this post a day late. (I've been busy tilling earth, filling containers with it, washing it off of spring edibles and out of my clothes!)

Today there were others digging alongside me who were also keen to get their hands dirty. In the pouring rain, we worked to prepare the beds of a public garden for spring planting. Some of them had driven more than thirty miles to show up. Talk about compost, farmer's markets, energy conservation and volunteer work drifted in and out. I couldn't help but contrast this with other rainy days I've spent working in the same garden, when both words and working hands were few. The overall energy was positive despite the weather, and the drive to "get some work done" was palpable.

Because of Earth Day, conversations and activities that would normally be quite heavy were raised and spread amongst everyone. Most importantly, people who had never before thought of themselves as activists were taking part in the very activity that has moved some of the most influential activists of our time. Henry David Thoreau, David Attenborough, Micheal Pollan, and countless others made direct contact with the earth (observing soil, fauna, and growth), which sparked meaningful dialogues about our relationship with the planet. These are the kind of dialogues that resonate and move me to work with the soil time after time.

A few other garden bloggers, like The Sage Butterfly, are sharing three books that have influenced their views on sustainable living for Earth Day. Here are my top picks (and as I have already mentioned Henry David Thoreau, David Attenborough and Micheal Pollan, I will try not to allude to their major influence on me again):

1) The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson. It may not be a heavy-hitter like Silent Spring, which has spoken to the sharpest minds of the last half-century. Rachel Carson speaks to the spirit this time. It has particular relevance to anyone who can remember discovering nature as a child, or wishes to pass on some of what they've discovered about nature to future generations.
2) A Field Guide to the Familiar by Gale Lawrence. If Mother Nature herself needed a lawyer, Lawrence could defend her with ease. While she emphasizes answers to the most obvious, riddling questions we all have about the flora, fauna and natural phenomena in New England (Why do so many skunks end up as roadkill? What kind of beetle keeps thudding against the screen-door in summer? Does ragweed have any redeeming traits? How do I pick out the seasonal constellations? Where do Christmas cacti come from? How do rainbows work?)she also reveals the hidden patterns that make each one resilient, unique, and connected to us. No matter how little or how much I had been exposed to these things before reading, I was inspired to look closer in every case, often coming to respect even the most unsavory creatures just a bit more.
3)Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie. Keeping a Nature Journal offered one more way, with hundreds of samples and activities, to cram more nature into my life. But there was a catch: I had to slow down. Waaay down. Instead of observing the natural world strictly in terms of education, business, recreation, or design, I began to take it all in just for the purposes of observing. I noticed that flies and bumble bees were not only collecting pollen from the flowers- they were clinging on tightly when the wind picked up, and hiding from rain under the petals. And the reason why there were so many starlings on my client's lawn is that they were sharing a meal of grubs, who in turn reside underneath the grass and feed on its roots. After observing this way, I hope to be more understanding of those kids I teach that are poised with hand lenses and notebooks, pencils and sample boxes. I want them to get the full picture too!


  1. I saw a bee sheltering under a leaf for the first time a few years ago. It was a fascinating sight. Keeping a Nature Journal sounds like it would guide me towards getting even closer to nature. And A Field Guide to the Familiar is something I am definitely going to answer all those nagging questions I have about things. Thank you for participating in The Earth Day Reading Project and Happy Earth Day!

  2. Hi Kate, I enjoy reading about your observation of a bee clinging on for shelter. Sometimes I get carried away observing the little critters that I have to remind myself to carry on with gardening. :)

  3. I too am one for observing. Every spring the starlings come to dine on grubs. They go from yard to yard, avoiding those that were sprayed. No one wants grubs, but it is not worth killing everything else that happens to be there too. Thank you for visiting and a welcome to you too. I enjoyed my visit and will be back.

  4. I love just sitting and being taken away by the little things in my garden. Love how you talk about your observations and your relationship with the earth! Loving your blog =)

  5. Love the choices...I am keeping a journal although not daily it is weekly throughout the growing seasons...

  6. Thanks all! Glad that I'm not the only one noticing all of these little happenings. It can be tough to keep up with a nature/ garden journal (I started my first one last fall) but worth it, I think.


If there's one thing better than visiting gardens, it's talking about them. . .thanks for joining the conversation!