Friday, April 23, 2010

Earth Day 2010

Aldo Leopold, considered by many to be the creator of the land ethic, wrote these words in 1948 in the foreword to his classic A Sand County Almanac:

There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.

... Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher 'standard of living' is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free. For us in the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to see a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech.

These wild things, I admit, had little human value until mechanization assured us a good breakfast, and until science disclosed the drama of where they come from and how they live. The whole conflict thus boils down to a question of degree. We of the minority see a law of diminishing returns in progress, our opponents do not.

Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man, nor for us to reap from it the esthetic harvest it is capable, under science, of contributing to culture.

... But wherever the truth may lie, this much is crystal-clear: our bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to be healthy. The whole world is so greedy for more bathtubs that it has lost the stability necessary to build them, or even turn off the tap. Nothing could be salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings.
Perhaps such a shift in values can be achieved by reappraising things unnatural, tame and confined in terms of things natural, wild and free.

I can't help but ponder what Leopold would say about the "progress" humanity has made since 1948. The duality of more protected land and better environmental laws contrasting with our new obsessions and expanded pursuit of wealth.

I read this to my environmental science students and we discussed the possibilities of shifting from a nation of consumers to a nation of producers who creatively work to support other people that are not beholden only to corporations, but to their communities and to the land. Some of my students have "aha" moments in the classroom and some of them are cynical. I tell them, "How can you can be so cynical when you're only seventeen?" They tell me, "We're New Yorkers."

I took all of my classes to the Nature Study Woods to hike and to clean up litter. One of my earth science students made Earth cupcakes and I read them The Lorax by Dr. Suess. My environmental science students read poems that they wrote or found. My favorite part of being in the woods with my students is when they make their own observations about nature and start to have their own connection to the place.

Happy Earth day!

Finding a Jack-in-the Pulpit flower for the first time.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Unusually warm days of early Spring and planned outings has us all feeling like summer vacation started a bit early. The only strange thing is to be in shorts at the beach when the trees don't have any leaves yet.
I accompanied Miranda on her class trip which included her first ride on a school bus to a great place with a farm, a natural playground and a funky, interactive art exhibit.

I do love field trips and always plan at least a couple for my students. This week I took them to a sewage treatment plant, which is always enlightening, and a protected salt marsh on Long Island Sound. The photo above is of my students checking out a rock covered with recently spawned barnacles.

A friend organized a family hike today to a local shoreline and it was a beautiful day and I feel very lucky to have so many good friends that value taking their children to natural areas. I would have to say that reading to my kids and exploring the outdoors with them are my two favorite parenting activities (aside from smooches and reveling in their hilarity, of course).

Lastly, whenever I am out in natural areas many days over of a short period time, a theme emerges. Week of the spittle bugs, week of Spring Peepers peeping, etc. The changing storyline of nature is part of what keeps me intrigued. So, this week's theme was praying mantis egg cases, featured as the brown blob on marsh grass above. I saw them with my students earlier this week and with my family today. They have been there since last fall, but I haven't been in a lot of grassy places since last fall, so they seem very new to me.