Buy the sky and
sell the sky and
ask the sky don't fall on me
- the band REM
Does anyone own the sky? When airplanes fly across the sky, they leave long white lines of exhaust, so much like clouds but too straight, too linear to be the work of mother nature. They are the work of man. Like scars across the clear blue. The exhaust clouds from airplanes insulate the earth so much they protect us from the greenhouse gas we create, so that when no planes flew for a few days after 9/11, there was a rise in the earths temperature of about one or two degrees Fahrenheit. Click here to read about this phenomenon.
So this is the problem. I love airplanes, they allow me to live across the world from my friends and family and still see them often. But they also guzzle fossil fuels and are changing the earth's climate.
It's Earth Day. And like most Earth days, I want to think of something nice to do for the planet. But I am also conflicted since it is all just so complex, since much of what I love is just bad for the world, like flying. I know I can just think of small ways to make things better and start there- compost, stop using plastic bags, bring my own cup....I know what to do. I could do more. But I also just want to acknowledge the weird feelings of overwhelm and conflict that come up for me on each Earth Day. Sure I can plant a tree, but I am likely going to drive somewhere to do it.
So Happy Earth Day- a day full of good intentions and weird conflicts, high hopes and hidden anxieties.
To observe the day, here is the perfect post modern tribute to Mama Earth. Below is a video of a famous speech usually attributed to 'Chief Seattle', a Suquamish leader that was in communication with the US government about the purchase of north western pacific lands in North America. It has since been learned that the actual response from Chief Seattle was quite different. Click here for the real text of Chief Seattle reply, that was printed in the Seattle Sunday Star on Oct. 29, 1887, in a column by Dr. Henry A. Smith, who was present for the delivery of the actual speech and based this version on notes he took on that occasion.
The words in the video below were actually written by Ted Perry in 1970 as part of the modern environmental movement. At the time Perry was a teacher at University of Texas, and was going to use the words as part of an environmental movie that was planned for the Southern Baptist Convention.
This speech hung as a poster in my house in college, and at the time I thought it was the words of the real Chief Seattle. The text is moving, regardless. The fact that it turns out it is not authentic, but is just a modern American's made up version makes it even more poignant for me. My modern world is full of copies, falsification, shams, and illusions. All the false representations that are part of our world are exactly why earth day is important to me. I have a sense you have to work to even know what is real in this world these days. I mean is that red coloring from delicious berries? Or is it from red #40, or E- some number or whatever?
The earth is real, alive, and responsive. In a plastic world, I appreciate the real live earth- her dirt and trees, plants and seas. Her berries, and the authentic sweet yummy red they offer.
Most of us long to connect to a piece of pure ancient wisdom, and to the natural world itself, but do not even know how to access it. I think we are right to suspect there has been earth wisdom lost that we can only imagine. So here it is a piece as it was imagined in 1970 by Ted Perry, and later pawned off to me as the words of Chief Seattle.
Even if things are weird, and climate change seems inevitable and unstoppable, I have a two little girls. They might grow up and have two little girls, who might have two little girls, who will want to go out and play. So you still gotta try, you still gotta do something. You still gotta think the planet is big, old, and resilient. I think she is able to absorb these anxieties of mine, and tolerate all of humanity's missteps, and still be there for us while we find our footing. So we will keep trying, no matter how hard it is to make changes in our lives, and no matter how small a difference it seems to make.
And we ask the sky, don't fall on me.