Earth Day, Arbor Day, May Day: Calls of action
Ahhhhh, what an April it has been. We can only hope that the adage, “April showers bring May flowers, ” proves true. By my calculation, we have had only 10 mostly sunny days in April (30 percent). The other 20 days have been cloudy or rainy!
Ahhhhh, keeping track of the weather is such a New England thing to do.
Ahhhh, never mind, April’s showers have been good for the earth and the cool temperatures have preserved the glory of daffodils, as if stretching the primary source of April’s cheer.
Part of tracking and watching the weather is a deep-seated desire to understand and embrace the earth. Humans have not always been the best stewards of Gaia, but today — in the 21st century — there are both modern and ancient celebrations focused on earth care, which are marked in late April.
The most modern of these celebrations is Earth Day, which was first celebrated on April 22, 1970. Originally Earth Day was a call to action from Sen. Gaylord Nelson to counteract the effects of air and water pollution. Over the decades the focus of Earth Days have evolved and broadened to include the principles of reduce, reuse, and recycle resources; to develop and adopt the use of renewable energies; and now, 50 years later, to focus on the challenges of mitigating and adapting to the effects of global climate change. At its core, Earth Day calls on the power of individuals to coalesce into a force for change.
J. Sterling Morton is the perfect example that one person can make a difference. Morton moved to Nebraska in 1854 — before Nebraska was a state — and started planting trees on his property and extolling the ecological virtues of trees and shrubs. Nearly 20 years later, Morton proposed a day for all Nebraskans to plant trees in their communities. The first Arbor Day — a day of appreciation for all types of trees — was April 10, 1872. J. Sterling Morton championed the idea of Arbor Day in Nebraska, but it was the actions of many additional individuals that resulted in a 148-year tradition of tree planting for the benefit of our earth. This singular Nebraskan event in 1872 grew to include most of the United States by 1892 and started to be embraced world-wide with the introduction of Arbor Day in Japan in 1883.
Arbor Day did not become a national holiday until 1970. (An important year, and decade, for national adoption of environmental legislation.) Generally, Arbor Day is recognized now on the last Friday in April.
In 2005, the Ocean View Foundation and B.I. School teacher Shannon Cotter-Marsella (originally from Nebraska) started a tradition of planting a tree on the school grounds with her middle school class. The first planting — a Red Maple provided by the R.I. Tree Council — was done under the supervision of Matt Largess (ambassador from the Tree Council) and the fourth through seventh grades.
Again this year, Ms. Cotter-Marsella’s class has planted an Arbor Day tree, albeit at a social distance: another red maple is the 16th tree or shrub planted at the school. Although the digging and planting was done by the “masked” adults in this time of COVID-19, students from the sixth grade class visited the planting hole individually — and provided their own concoction of natural fertilizers and a border stone for the new tree; they will now take turns visiting the tree for watering until the end of school. One person can make a difference. J.S. Morton inspired a movement; S. Cotter-Marsella inspired a middle school; one tree can join with others to make a forest.
The oldest traditions of honoring the earth are ancient rituals celebrating the seasons. The season of spring is celebrated by some at Easter; but, the most ancient spring traditions acknowledge the Crossquarter days, those days that fall midway between equinoxes and solstices. The Crossquarter day that is upon us is May Day — May 1. The Celts (a culture that has existed since at least 1,000 years B.C.) believed that May Day was the most important day of the year; a time of rebirth dividing the year between light and dark. Traditionally this holiday is celebrated with rituals of fire and adornments of flowers. Sometimes the celebrations included ribbon dances around a May Pole, and the making of May Baskets. To celebrate May Day is to commit a simple act of faith, acknowledging that earth’s seasons have, and will, proceed.
Whether it is Earth Day, or Arbor Day or May Day, the celebrations of late April are about our environment and how to honor and respect our home planet earth. All of these holidays are calls to action. Simple actions: some of which require only that you accept that individual efforts matter and sometimes the greatest impact is realized only in the future. Other acts of celebration simply honor and remind us that all life forces are cyclic. Earth, Arbor and May Days challenge us to take simple actions for earth care: vote, plant a tree, and acknowledge, admire, and share the wonder of nature’s recurring patterns with blossoms in a May Basket.