Monday is Earth Day, a day to celebrate our planet and all the living creatures it sustains. And next Saturday, downtown Olympia will be filled with thousands of people attending and/or parading in the 25th annual Procession of the Species.
In fact, the entire month of April has been declared Earth Month by Gov. Inslee.
A person could probably spend the entire month attending environmental events, writing protest letters to fossil fuel companies, or chanting earth-saving slogans. And all of that would be just fine.
But we have another idea about how to celebrate Earth Day: Put away your agenda, your opinions, your ideology and your activism. Spend a day – maybe even the whole month – just paying attention to the earth. Focus your attention on all the life the earth’s gravity holds onto as it spins through the vastness of space. Let your mind rest, and let your senses take in the unfolding of this wild, surging spring.
Whether we intend to or not, we train our senses to experience what matters to us. People who care about cars can identify every make and model. Experienced chefs can taste every herb and spice in a paella or a curry. A neighbor who spent much of his life laying asphalt sees even the smallest defect in the surface of the street when he drives to the grocery store. There’s nothing wrong with any of that; it’s just not nearly enough.
What’s too often missing is what matters most: all the life on earth that escapes our attention. We profess to love our planet, but for too many of us it is a distant, theoretical sentiment, ungrounded in the intimacy that only comes from close observation.
That’s why we recommend greater devotion to training our senses to fully experience the life of our home planet.
Greet every emerging leaf. Watch the blossom rain from cherry trees. Stand near a cottonwood tree and wait for the tiniest breeze to fill you up with its spring scent. Be still and stare at an ant hill for a while.
Better yet go sit by a stream or pond, and see which of our fellow creatures comes to drink, bathe, swim or rest. Look into the water and imagine all the tiniest species teeming, growing, feeding, dying, rotting, and providing food for more. Come back in the evening to take in a concert of Pacific chorus frogs.
We have many teachers to show us how to connect to the life around us. For instance, some years ago a gardening magazine reported on a man who decided to spend his vacation at home, exploring his own yard. At the end of two weeks, he said that he only made it half way to the back fence, because he found a magnifying lens and became entranced with the insect life in his grass. He said that it was like visiting another world – but it was our world, our earth, our home he saw anew.
We know another person who, on waking, identifies every bird she hears singing outside her open window before she even throws back the blankets. Her bird radar is so acute she notices birds she sees in the sky or sitting on trees, light poles or power lines even when she’s doing 70 on the freeway.
We also admire an amateur geologist who knows not only the habits of every species of salmon and the migration routes of shorebirds, but also the history of our mountains and the story every rock has to tell.
In this mostly cool, rainy April, spring has unspooled more slowly than it often does. The upside of this is that tulips and cherry blossoms have lasted longer than they would under bright sunlight. But brace yourself: In May and June there will be a sunnier, lusher, more prolonged and intense rush of new growth and renewal. The more closely you see, smell, hear, taste and touch it, the richer you will be.
In the end, although we have nattered on about all of this at some length, the value of a deep connection to the natural world lies beyond the limits of language.
And that points to the wisdom of one of the cardinal rules of the Procession of the Species: no signs, no slogans, no words. Just joy, reverence, and gratitude.