It’s Earth Day–April 22, 2013. The planet and its creatures continue to fascinate. The past half year began by wowing millions with the wind, waves, and fires of Superstorm Sandy. It’s continuing to impress on us the extremes of cruelty that can be caused by humans wielding not only assault weapons in elementary schools, but pressure cookers in backpacks. For those of us in households with children, that is a truly weird confluence of objects to contemplate. For how long will parents think of the troubled Boston Marathon jerks when they cook a corned beef or place a bag lunch or permission slip into their kids’ school bags?
For today, the planet is front and center. I’m including above a view of Kinzua Lake near Warren, Pennsylvania, which I snapped on Good Friday, 2013. The story of this gorgeous landscape (can you imagine how beautiful it is in the fall and summer, when the trees have their foliage?) is a bittersweet and compelling tale of our times. The Seneca Indians were thrown from their ancestral lands near the border of Pennsylvania and New York in the 1960′s to build the huge hydroelectric Kinzua Dam, which came online in 1970. The U.S. Supreme Court had dismissed a lawsuit brought by a group of Quaker activists attempting to block the removal as a violation of early U.S. treaties with the Indian tribes. THESE EVENTS OCCURRED IN THE 1960s, FOLKS! Not in the 1860s.
Ostensibly, the motivation to build the dam was flood control. That has been a success, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which cites hundreds of millions in avoided property damage in downriver towns and cities. We also enjoy breathtaking views of an enormous lake, added recreational opportunities, and lots of hydroelectric power for Cleveland and Pittsburgh. But given our appetite for power, it’s never enough. Lots of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to find natural gas supplies is going on up there in Northwestern Pennsylvania these days. The Senecas are running their casino in Salamanca, New York. The lights are on in the Walmarts. Amen.
Is it progress? The answer depends on whom you ask. Robert Moses, the expert at Getting Things Done to advance the hegemony of the automobile, probably applauded the plans for Kinzua. The activist song-writers and singers of the 1960s, including Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, did not. Cash recorded (and Dylan reportedly once sang on stage) a ballad about the Kinzua Dam controversy written by Peter LaFarge, called “As Long as the Grass Shall Grow.” You can find the song and its lyrics in recorded tracks and videos online, if you are so inclined.
If you are looking for a good read for Earth Day, try Dr. Art’s Guide to Planet Earth, For Earthlings Ages 12 to 120. It’s a light book (in ounces of paper), but not in content. The author, Dr. Art Sussman, manages, in just 122 pages, to contribute a succinct and compelling explanation of how Earth’s natural systems work, and how they can be damaged. It’s a wonderful paperback that, in my opinion, should be in every home and school classroom. For interesting and dramatic charts and graphs, there’s also Al Gore’s book and website accompanying An Inconvenient Truth. Another graphic depiction of how climate change affects the Earth can be found at this link: http://www.learnstuff.com/climate-change/
Here are a few things I’ve done in the past year to be ecologically conscious:
Since Superstorm Sandy, I’ve become the Queen of Layered Clothing. Warm, fuzzy boot-slippers, socks, leggings, jackets, sweaters, blankets and down sleeping bags make it possible to turn down the thermostat in your home or office, day and night! Be sure to open the blinds to let in warming, natural sunlight for as much of the day as possible…
I rarely touch chemical cleaning products anymore. Nothing cleans much better than baking soda, white vinegar, and a vinyl scrubber sponge, anyway. My kitchen and bathroom counters sport dish detergent squeeze bottles filled with vinegar, and snap-top containers of baking soda. Much better for our water supply and all the creatures that inhabit the planet.
Last, but not least, at the beginning of March, I purchased a 7-year old Honda Civic hybrid, which is getting 40-60 miles per gallon, 80,000 miles into its lifetime.
Hope you find your way to make this an enlightening Earth Day.
Text and photos of Kinzua Dam and Dutchess County llama, copyright 2013 Vivian R. Carter. Photos of Jamaica Bay marsh grass and rare bird seen in Belle Harbor, copyright 2012 Vivian R. Carter.