This is Earth Week – the first Earth Day was April 22, 1970. I was only 13 years old at the time, and to be honest, I don’t even remember that first Earth Day. But somehow, its significance must have sunk into my psychic. The 1970’s were a time of heightened awareness of the environment, and all the problems that humanity was causing at that time. The main environmental issues of that day included air and water pollution, and endangered species. And people were discovering, and in some cases, re-discovering their love for nature and the outdoors. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was developing a profound interest in the outdoors – that interest manifested itself mostly in activities like hunting and fishing. I still enjoy hunting and especially fishing, but my outdoor interests have expanded into more passive hobbies like gardening, nature photography, and bird watching.
In the 1970’s I became a big fan of John Denver, who wrote and sang beautiful ballads about nature and the great outdoors, especially his beloved Rocky Mountains. Also, the actor, Robert Redford, starred in the movie Jeremiah Johnson, about a mountain man who lived in the Rockies. Both of these celebrities were active in the environmental causes of that time, and though John Denver was taken from us way too early through his untimely death in 1997, Redford continues to be a leading voice in environmental causes today, as an octogenarian.
Sometime during high school, I determined that I wanted to study wildlife management in college, and I dreamed of someday living in the west, and experiencing God’s awesome creation of the Rockies. I eventually made it out west, to the wild and untamed beauty of the great state of Wyoming, working for the Bureau of Land Management during the summers, and it was everything I could ever hope for. But my destiny was closer to home in Tennessee – graduate school, falling in love and getting married, raising a family, and starting a 30+ year career with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
As we celebrate this 51st Earth Day, I reflect on how far we have come since that first Earth Day in 1970. We have made great progress on so many environmental fronts, but there is still a long ways to go, and we have new challenges today that we didn’t even think about way back in 1970. Climate change, of course, is at the forefront of those issues. Fortunately, there is a new group of leaders and activists who are taking up the cause of caring for our Earth, our Common Home, God’s creation. There is much at stake, especially for our younger generations, and the generations to follow in the 21st century. There are no longer any excuses to not act or to continue to ignore the unfolding climate crisis. But I have great faith and hope in this new generation of activists who will lead us to new progress and actions on the environmental issues of our times. I welcome these new leaders, and stand ready to assist and work with them in their noble efforts.
I still listen to John Denver, and every now and then I’ll re-watch Jeremiah Johnson, to re-imagine that old feeling of being a mountain man in the Rocky Mountains. The songs and the movie bring back old memories of mountain landscapes and friends I’ve made over the years as we continue to fight the good fight for our environment. Happy Earth Week!