For me, an interesting and unexpected phenomenon that has accompanied our prolonged homestay has been the realization of just how fragile the artificial structures which we use to organize time really are. Have you found yourself struggling to differentiate your workday from your home day? Your week from your weekend? Do you find yourself forgetting on occasion what day it is? Has your ordinarily reliable biological clock, the one that tells you when to get up or when to eat or even about what time it is at any given moment begun to fail you, as mine has?
Not surprisingly, then, the realization that today is Earth Day and even more so, that it’s the 50th anniversary, snuck up on me a bit. And yet, there is something about being in the midst of a shared crisis that convinces me that mindful recognition of Earth Day is particularly important this year. We may well learn someday that there is a connection between the origin of the pandemic and any one of the many missteps we have taken in caring for the planet, but if there is, it does not appear to be a very straight line, so that’s not really what has me thinking this way.
I think, instead, that it’s the “pan-” in pandemic that has me contemplating how small, fragile, and utterly miraculous Planet Earth really is. How humbling it has been to observe rather helplessly this invisible virus circle the globe, and as it does so, reminding us not only of our shared humanity as citizens of Earth but also how relatively fragile and recent our existence as a species really is. We typically celebrate Earth Day with large gatherings in parks, schools, or town squares, or through community service initiatives like planting trees or the cleaning beaches. Perhaps, however, the absence of opportunities to harness the collective energy and effort of groups presents us with a different opportunity, the opportunity to meditate meaningfully about our place on Earth; perhaps we are afforded the time and space for each of us, even at a social distance, to make the kind of small changes in our daily practices that will re-set our collective practices when we eventually come together again.
This week, I have been posting a series of tips attached to Morning Messages each day, little changes in practice that I have pursued which, prior to my quarantine period, I just didn’t. I find myself with the time and inclination to pick up trash, to wash and dry dishes by hand rather than using the dishwasher, to get back to composting.
And most of all, I find myself walking in the woods. Earlier this week, Mrs. Klein, our environmental science teacher, shared one of her favorite quotations by Henry David Thoreau:
“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” If you’ve been down to Mrs. Klein’s classroom on the lower level, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the long line of rubber boots. They are positioned just inside the door that leads eventually to Beebe Woods, 388 acres of conservation land Falmouth Academy is lucky enough to call its back yard. Students in Mrs. Klein’s class regularly pull on their boots and head to the woods as Thoreau did, but they also observe animal life, identify rock formations, geo-cast, and keep naturalism journals. There’s plenty of “hard science,” I am sure, but the true benefit of the experience is the subconscious appreciation for wild places. So much of our time these days is wrestling with the joys of meeting by videoconference or sifting our way through daily does of despair in the papers and on the news, or just wondering (and worrying) about the future.
Even in the confines of our homes and the lives we are leading at a social distance, there are lots of little things we can do in celebration of Earth Day, but I would urge you to start with a walk in the woods. You’ll come out taller. Happy 50th.