While many of us now forced to stay at home, let’s get outside and enjoy the natural world, too

Kindergartners plant a tree on Earth Day in 2015 at San Martin Gwinn Elementary School. Photo by Elver Avendano, age 12

By Mike Monroe

Mike Monroe

The recent turmoil of our times should give us pause to reflect upon the essential values and relationships we hold dear. The vital connections between people and our natural environment are being tested like never before. Nature, including us, is resilient and adaptable to a point.

In the spring of 1970, I was preparing to graduate from junior high school in Southern California. Those were tumultuous times as well. Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon, the Woodstock concert in New York, a river in Ohio caught fire and the Santa Barbara oil spill all happened the year prior. And the Vietnam War was raging seemingly never to end. Still, we had hope for a better future energized by one day in April when 20 million Americans participated in the first Earth Day.

I remember a student council meeting when we discussed how our school should be involved. We decided upon a campus-wide litter removal effort — not a very glamorous endeavor, but it did serve us well, I thought. The time we spent picking up trash instilled in many of my classmates a sense of pride and respect for the school and our community.

That moment of promise was too brief as the following week the shootings at Kent State University in Ohio further fractured the country.

I have always had an environmentalist streak within me. Most likely the seed was planted when my family lived in Concord, Mass., for a couple of years. Dipping myself in the waters of Walden Pond and retracing the pathway that Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson would walk together while talking about nature certainly was a catalyst. As an eighth grader, I had not yet read Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac” or Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” but I was soon to do so in high school.  I was on my way to becoming a tree hugger.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic so abruptly changed our lives, my plan was to organize a tour of Cutrignelli Fattoria Apiaries in San Martin.

As I prepared for the late March outing, my thinking was to highlight the challenges encountered by honeybees and other pollinating insects — suggesting the real possibility of an insect apocalypse. Just as Rachel Carson had alerted the public to the dangers of DDT and its impact especially upon birds, today we are confronted with classes of chemical toxins called organophosphates and neonicotinoids, poisons that are widely used to control weeds and pests. The persistence and toxicity of these chemicals and their impact on human and animal health has been fiercely debated for the past 15 years.

As a sequel to the bee farm visit, another idea was buzzing in my head. For the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on Wednesday, April 22, I intended to write a column featuring a tour of Johnson’s Garden Center in Morgan Hill. What better way to celebrate Earth Day than to encourage people to build healthier gardens by employing organic practices such as composting and mulching. Or by choosing California native plants for their yards, selecting organic vegetable seeds and starts, and resisting the tendency to purchase chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.

The severity of the coronavirus outbreak has dashed many of our best plans. Still Earth Day is every day. And while many of us now forced to stay at home, perhaps some additional time in the garden is just what we need. Whether we are improving our soils with cover crops, experimenting with container gardening, or selecting organic seeds for our herb or vegetable gardens, gardening is so calming. And yet it is so energizing as we observe the flourishing of new growth with the arrival of bees, butterflies and birds.

Every day, but especially Earth Day, we should remember to thank Mother Nature and demonstrate our gratitude through the gentle care and stewardship of our environment. Be well and safe. Until we meet again, keep on sauntering!

Mike Monroe