Earth Day at 50

By Phil Hough
Reader Contributor

A new, or novel, virus has paused our normal activities with other people. Group events and gatherings are on hold for now. Stay-at-home work feels unusual and awkward for many of those who are lucky to have jobs. Those who are on home-stays caused by a stalled economy feel further withdrawn and isolated. All of us have had to distance ourselves from friends. Our relationships have shifted to online or double-arm length. No one is used to this new routine.

Phil Hough finds a lucky horseshoe on a clean up day. Courtesy photo.

Yet, our relationship to Mother Earth is much the same as always. The normal cycle of spring continues. Snow is melting off the mountains, the first wild flowers have appeared. Gardens are being planted. The osprey have returned to Lake Pend Oreille. 

Our population is sparse In North Idaho and northwest Montana. Public lands are abundant. Many people are getting out and enjoying the warming days. Days are getting longer. After work, we can leave our houses and Zoom meetings behind and go for a walk.

On April 22, Earth Day turns 50. As we are all focused on the COVID-19 crisis, it seems like this day has snuck up on us. Missing are advertisements for fairs and festivals. Facebook events are about home concerts, not public rallies. 

It feels odd not to be gathering with others in large celebrations. Sure there will be a lot of online content to honor this special day. Some will no doubt be moving and inspire people to act. But, for the first time in more than a decade, I won’t be down on the banks of Sand Creek collecting garbage and debris with others. There is still so much for us to do — and so much that we can do.

The first Earth Day that I remember was in the early 1970s. The original call to action was a very individual one. My dad and I went out in our canoe on the Sudbury river in Framingham, Mass. We hauled out four large garbage bags of trash. We sat eight feet apart in the canoe, with trash bags between us. The whole morning we were out we saw no one else.

We have some nice spring days ahead. Take a hike, or a walk, or a bike ride. Be safe — follow travel and social distancing guidelines. Make sure you check to see what is open. Maybe take a trash bag and clean up a special trail or area. As you do this, others are cleaning up their corner, too. I’ll probably be down along Sand Creek. Join me on the opposite bank. 

For a “COVID Challenge” post a picture of your clean-up on Instagram or Facebook. Not to shame others, but to inspire them to do something. To find their own way to give back to Mother Earth. If we all do this separately then together our actions will have a larger impact. Let’s be connected in this way.

Phil Hough is a hiker, paddler, picker-upper of trash and work-at-home wilderness advocate.

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