50th Anniversary of Earth Day Personal Reflection

I dream in ecosystems, dreams that began when I was young and learning the world through my senses.

An early memory, visited still once a week, is feeling warm and happy while fishing for catfish along Lettuce Creek. My sister and brother are with me. The water is stained red by the tannins produced in the surrounding oak hammocks, but I don’t know that yet. The creek was red because that was the way it was. We give up fishing and instead take off our shoes and push our feet deep down into the sandy bottom of the creekbed.

The next dream, the smell of galax, the endless view of blue mountains through the green branches of the spruce trees. I hike into a sunny opening. This time I know the plants’ names: Catawba rhododendron, flame azalea and a painted trillium, whose red seed pod is just growing in the summer sun. A raven calls out from the sky above me.

And now I am alone, at least until I notice the tiny pronghorn hidden in the grass before me. A loud “huff” as its mother crests the brown hill above. She pushes me back and down an embankment and I fall onto a bed of prickly pear cactus and pasque flowers. Below me is the green water of Yellowstone River.

One more: a full moon above Mount St. Helens and my partner and I have chosen to spend the night in a snow hut. We spent all day piling the snow and digging out our diminutive sleeping quarters. I lay down and the dripping begins. Drip, drip, drip right on my nose.

Throughout all the places I have lived, loved and now revisit nightly, there was one common thread. An echo of gratitude, my own, for all the land, animals, water and sky that have been protected. I am grateful for the people of the past who broke the mold and wrote the laws that would save our country’s wild places. I am grateful for the city planners and volunteers that built and have maintained our urban parks. Grateful for my parents who ingrained in me a sense of place. Indebted to the camp counselors, environmental educators and naturalists that taught me and inspired me to become a camp counselor, environmental educator and naturalist. I am glad for my own ancestors that allowed little Lettuce Creek to run wild instead of channeling it into a canal.

As Earth Day celebrates its first 50 years, we celebrate all the actions in conservation leading up to and after April 22, 1970. Until now, it was someone else’s job, concern or ambition to lead others in the care of our planet. Those people who felt their sense of place strongly and acted on the urge to protect what they loved. Now is our time and what we do in the next 50 years is our gift for the next generations to inherit and dream about. Will they go to sleep, as I do, wondering what wild place they will be transported to? Will they wish we did better?

Amy Renfranz, President of Environmental Educators of NC