When one lives in a beautiful place such as the Rangeley Lakes of Maine, it is easy to become complacent about the serious threats to our own environment, and the climate of our planet as a whole. That said, ….personal, local, state, and national pro-environment efforts must be an increasing priority for all of us.  Allen Wicken

Well, I did.

Every Earth Day, since the first one in 1970, I reflect on what I did that day, and what we, the human community on this beautiful planet, have accomplished (or not) as earth’s stewards since then.

On that first Earth Day, I was in my second of two years as a newly minted high school biology teacher in the small west-central Minnesota town of Madison (graduating class of about 100).  My enthusiasm for, and interest in, the living planet on which we live led me to pursue, then graduate with high honors from a very fine liberal arts school, Concordia College, in northwestern Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in biology.  It was 1968 and the Vietnam War was continuing to intensify and at the same time, begin to rage out of control.

Like most college students at the time, I wasn’t too supportive of what we saw as an ill-conceived conflict that was decimating that small southeast asian country while, at the same time, taking more and more Vietnamese and American lives.  Graduating in 1968 meant that for many young men, a likely ticket to Vietnam was looming….thanks to our local draft boards.

There were other options, but most were illegal.  I wasn’t about to seriously consider any of those…even though Canada was nearby, and many were choosing that direction.  However, in Minnesota and many other states, the war was unintentionally creating a shortage of teachers in the sciences, especially in rural communities.  Those teaching positions remained deferrable in the eyes of the Selective Service System…hence, they were also becoming very competitive.

By graduation day in May of 1968, I already had the position as Madison’s sole biology teacher in hand, to begin the following September.   Madison proved to be a great place to teach.  The students were, by and large, inquisitive and enthusiastic, and this mostly Scandinavian farming community clearly valued the quality of their schools.

In early 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin was energized by his observation of a serious oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, Califorinia….and the energy of anti-war demonstrations and rallies on campuses across the country.  He used his congressional influence to focus that activism toward the new and increased public awareness of the devastating effects of water and air pollution (Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring actually began the era of public awareness of our society’s negative impact on our lands, air and waters). Establishing an Earth Day in the spring of 1970 became the focus of his public awareness goals.

It was a great success.  Leading up to April 22, 1970 demonstrations were being organized, press releases and environmental impact stories were making it into the newspapers and on television, etc.  I gave some thought to what we could do in rural west central Minnesota.  I decided to energize my four biology classes to begin with.

Our school complex, much like Rangeley’s school, K-12 were all located in one location, with an open grassy courtyard in the middle and featuring a prominent flagpole flying “Old Glory” that was raised daily by a school custodian at some point before students began to arrive.  I thought a well-publicized ceremony, complete with the raising of the American flag in that courtyard fifteen minutes before the start of classes would be a good way to get Madison, Minnesota’s environmental awareness off to a good start.

An official Earth Day flag had been created sometime shortly before April 22nd.  I had shown a picture of that flag design to my biology classes, and mused that it would be pretty cool to have one to be flown just below the American flag.   One of my students, a very bright and likable student I might add, went home and asked her mother if she could make one on short notice.

Her mother, a waitress in a downtown cafe’ and seamstress on the side, said that she would get on board and do her part.  I knew her mother, a very bright, thoughtful, and likable woman….just like her daughter.  She called me and asked if she could be our designated Earth Day “Betsy Ross”.  I was delighted.

The morning of April 22, 1970, just before classes began….my four biology classes (esentially the entire sophomore class) assembled around the flagpole.  We had our favorite custodian do the honors…this time raising two flags, the second was the beautifully stitched Earth Day flag with green and white stripes and a yellow greek “Omega” on a green background where the stars are featured on Old Glory.   The flag’s seamstress was on hand as well, proudly watching her creation’s raising below the American flag.  Her daughter was beaming proudly as well.

We read a Madison Earth Day statement composed by a team of biology students, while the remaining K-12 students, their teachers, and other school staff watched and listened from open windows on that shining spring morning.  It was a successful event that I have reflected on every April 22nd since then…all 39 of them.  I hope that the grown students in Madison, Minnesota continue to remember that day, and its intent, as well.  I also reflect on what has been accomplished environmentally since then.

Much has.  Later in 1970, the U.S. House and Senate passed, and President Nixon actually signed, the landmark creation of the Environmental Protection Administration, the Endangered Species Act and the first Clean Water and Clean Air Acts…legislation championed by Maine’s Senator Ed Muskie.  However, now these 39 years later, we know the efforts have moved too slowly for the ticking clock of climate change.

In fact, we have taken some heartbreaking steps backward as a nation these past two years.  The current administration and its rejection of overwhelming scientific studies that have sounded the alarm with increasing data, coupled with woefully misguided policies currying favor of the deep pockets of the fossil fuel industries and their lobbyists…are at this moment continuing to overturn the positive steps taken by more thoughtful presidents and congresses since 1970.   It is truly disgusting.  And in my mind, the worst of this administration’s many misguided actions.

Beyond my reflections this past April 22nd, I felt compelled to wish folks here in Rangeley a “Happy Earth Day” to acknowledge all the good things that continue to be done in support of earth’s many priceless living places and species.  Where to go first?

In Rangeley it would be the those at work in the newly established offices of the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust on Main Street.  This is an organization that fully understands what it means to do the good work in support of our local environment and environmental education.

I managed to interrupt their staff meeting with my earnest greeting…and I concluded by asking their fine executive director, David Miller, for a quote to be included in this future column.  He said he would, and would email me something by the end of the day.   I think his statement is a fitting way to wrap up this column.  It is as follows:

“Today is Earth Day!  Of course, a danger of labeling a day as Earth Day is that we objectify the earth as something separate from ourselves.  In fact, WE are the earth.  As humans we have no existence without it.  When we care for it, we care for ourselves and our children.  When we abuse it, we abuse ourselves and everybody and everything we love.”

Amen to that.

We need to write, otherwise nobody will know who we are.

                                                                  Garrison Keillor

Per usual, your thoughts and comments are more than welcome.  (Please insure that they are thoughtful).   Jot them down on a 3”x5” card and slip it inside the log door on our mudroom on the rockbound west shore of Gull Pond….or simply fire off an email to [email protected]

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