Earth Day 2020: Reflections from the Farm
Earth Day is approaching. And it’s a big one. It’s the fiftieth time we’ve set aside this day to celebrate Earth, to mark the debt we owe the planet and to atone for our sins against her, to rally to her aid. So I’ve been wondering, what should I do to celebrate this momentous occasion?
There will be plenty of options. It promises to be an inspiring response to the current situation we find ourselves in after 50 years of growing awareness of our ecological crisis and inadequate societal responses. I could find a local rally. I could listen to speeches from modern-day prophets and cheer on the passionate pleas for change, lock arms with others and sing and sway and chant. I could join an effort to clean up a stream, help plant some trees, or volunteer at the local recycling plant. Those are all meaningful possibilities. But doing any of them would require time on the road in a vehicle, burning gasoline and driving by hills and woods and fields I would rather be in, especially on this day set aside to celebrate Earth.
I could contact my legislators, demanding a response to the destruction of our planet home. I could tweet a moving sentiment, post inspirational thoughts on Facebook. But those are everyday activities not specific and particular to Earth Day. What home-grown alternative to all these wonderful actions could I engage in on this day to honor Earth – actions that I couldn’t do every day that would have powerful meaning on this particular day?
Maybe there’s another answer to that question, “What more can I do?”
Maybe I should do less.
I’m thinking of the hepatica that blooms in a hidden place on the far
end of the farm, deep in the woods. Its blossoms appear early in the
spring, often beneath the leaf litter, sometimes in the snow, unheralded
and unnoticed. From our human perspective, its hidden life does not
accomplish much of anything. It does not run from here to there. It does
not make a noise. It does not claim another’s life. It does not do, do,
And when we stop to think about it, isn’t that really what Earth needs from us humans right now? A bit of undoing? Relief from our constant demands? I think so. And I sense that maybe it’s exactly what we need, too.
So maybe on this day we call “Earth” day, I will make an extra effort to undo, for just a day, some of those everyday things I do as a human that take a toll on Earth. And at the same time, maybe I’ll make an extra special effort to simply BE, here on this patch of Earth I call home, to be here as Earth, one with all the life surrounding me in ways that I normally would not take the time to engage. Or disengage, as it may be.
I’m thinking I’ll wake on April 22 when my body tells me it’s time. I’ll take a moment of stillness and silence to breathe with intention and gratitude, recalling the gifts of soil, water, fire, air. I’ll turn off my cellphone, leave it on the nightstand and make my way to the bathroom to relieve myself. I’ll close the toilet and leave it unflushed. I’ll wash my hands and brush my teeth with minimal cold water. I’ll dress for the weather.
Then I’ll walk down the stairs to the breaker box and switch off the electricity.
Heading back upstairs, I’ll make my way to the kitchen, cut a slice of bread from a fresh-baked loaf and pour a drink from that day’s pitcher of water. I’ll sit at the table to enjoy my meal and the exquisite silence of a home without the low hum of appliances. My laptop will remain closed, as will the refrigerator. Music will not play. The news will not be heard. The vehicle will remain parked in the driveway, keys on the hook below the phone.
I will walk to the barn to tend to the needs there, then turn to the woods.
In slow silence: walking. In grateful sitting: seeing, smelling, hearing, perhaps even sleeping.
Carrying only a bottle of water and a copy of Wendell Berry’s Sabbath Poems. I will sit at the base of a tree and learn treeness. I will wander the creek and ponder the effects my life has on my downstream neighbors. I will listen for the sounds of birds calling familiar tunes up and down the hollow that, on this day, will take on new meaning: the raucous protest call of the pileated woodpecker, the urgent screams of the red-shouldered hawk, the persistent questions of the phoebe. I will lay my head down beside the hepatica, and trade my exhalations for hers.
I will celebrate Earth Day by being Earth, as we all are. By naming my dependence. By praying my gratitude. By confessing my transgressions. By lying on my back and letting go, allowing my body to sink into the soil that has made me. In silence.
And in letting go, I will return to my everyday existence much fuller, but lighter. Earth and I will be better for it. And who knows? Maybe I could observe an Earth Day in just such a way each month. I’d be that much closer to celebrating Earth Day every day.
Bob Ernst, CoL; Loretto Earth Network Coordinator; Executive Director, Plowshares Farm Center for Education and Spirituality