I’ve long struggled with the concept of Earth Day. Shouldn’t every day be earth day? Shouldn’t we always be celebrating and caring for the very planet that keeps us alive? Shouldn’t we continuously be working to live in a more harmonious manner?
But I get it. We need this tiny, 1/365th of a reminder.
As many of you know, I live on a farm. Caring for the earth is a constant process. We make choices about what to grow and where. About the animals we raise. About the fields we mow – and those we’ve allowed to return to prairie. About the weeds we tolerate because the alternatives are simply not an option.
As a result, we’ve watched our native pollinator populations explode, an unmowed patch of land quickly become a field of asters, and a former hayfield sprout crabapple trees that now dwarf us.
When it works, it’s a beautiful thing.
But when the bugs and slugs and weeds threaten to overtake our small plot, or when we watch nearby fields of trees being clearcut for lumber, it can all feel overwhelming.
Sometimes the answers are simple – when we discovered ducks were better at reigning in slugs than chemicals, we raised a few and gave them a try. We set up a heat lamp in a small brooder filled with pine shavings and gave them a shallow dish of medicated feed.
But even then, things weren’t as cut and dry as they might seem. When the ducks raised their own young the following year, they skipped the brooder and store-bought feed entirely and went for long walks and munched on wild plantains.
We do the best we can, but we’re always learning.
As an artist, one who makes physical stuff, I struggle with that aspect of my work. I use materials that must come from the earth, or be recycled. Does the world need more stuff? Am I unintentionally fostering destruction? These are never easy questions.
I can see the benefits of what I do, certainly – I try to create beauty that fosters a love of nature. I do it in a studio with a carbon-free commute. I use many environmentally-friendly processes in my work. It’s never a perfect system, but I try to get it right – or as right as I can.
But there are parts of the process I simply can’t control. They require change at a higher level. I don’t know how to impact that change, except in incremental ways. It takes leadership, and collective will. I am just a drop in a vast bucket.
Then again, I remind myself, every single drop matters.
I remember when I traveled to Iceland – I was struck by how sustainable the country is. Its energy is 99.9% renewable. And it physically showed – the absence of propane tanks and power lines was visibly startling.
It wasn’t always that way. A decade or two ago, they relied heavily on fossil fuels, much like the U.S. But they made a conscientious shift. It took leadership and ingenuity. I remember reading about a farmer who built a small geothermal system for his farm. A simple loop of plumbing buried in the ground supplied heat using only what the good green earth gave him. When the government of Iceland found out, they hired him to teach others to do the same.
It’s a reminder that change takes both individuals and leadership. Small change can be made at small levels, but it gets amplified into bigger change when bigger forces become involved.