There’s little that the inhabitants of this planet agree on, but one of them might be Earth Day — the largest secular observance in the world, marked by more than a billion people every year as a day of action. April 22 marks its 51st observance.
Not all of those billion people are tree huggers. Some, such as I, just plant trees to replace those storms knock down or just hang laundry on the line to enjoy the fresh air scent rather than the dryer. We grow and pick veggies straight from the garden, and fight the birds for fruit from our cherry, pear and apple trees and raspberry and blueberry bushes. My husband and son raise our own beef, while a neighbor just down the road has free-range chickens. We burn our own wood to heat our house. My hands are the only dishwasher I’ve ever operated.
As a kid, and still today, we save electricity by using shades, opening windows or cooling off by a fan instead of installing central air. If that doesn’t work for one or two scorching days of the year, relief can be found in the cool of the basement. I hear many say they couldn’t live without air conditioning; well I’m proof that it won’t kill you.
I don’t identify as an environmentalist, yet I think I’ve been one my entire life. My childhood was spent at a swamp picking cattails, in the woods looking for wildflowers, sliding down the hills of sand at a gravel pit, trying to skip a pebble on the creek or looking for treasures at the nearby dump. Sometimes I met up with my neighborhood friend Becky and we rode our bikes to the Red Cedar River by the Sawyer Bridge boat landing. This was long before the Country Lane Pantry started its farmers markets, so our country road had little traffic. We looked for agates on the shoulders of the road, filling our pockets with treasures. Our environment — along 17th Avenue between Barron and Rice Lake — was our playground, and we enjoyed it and took care of it.
Most of you my age or older probably take part in environmentally sound practices as second nature without giving it a thought. It was the way I was raised and I have not deviated from it. Take repurposing, for instance. The large family I grew up in always repurposed household items to limit what ended up in the burning barrel. (That was before garbage trucks did garbage pickup in the country.) Small boxes from matches or greeting cards became dividers in the junk drawers, larger ones were reused when wrapping gifts. Bread bags were used with leaky boots. An overturned rectangular Kleenex box made a great vehicle for Barbie and Ken. Shoeboxes had unlimited possibilities, the best of which were saved for school Valentines. That practice persists in my own family today. Chip cannisters made silos for miniature play farms when our son was little. Container lids are great to use under plants should I overwater them. Frosting containers stack well for multiple uses. Even this newspaper you are reading (unless you are an e-subscriber) is great to line bird cages, roll up to shoo an annoying fly away or crinkle up and use to carefully put away seasonal glassware.
Spring cleanup of ditches is another thing that I just assume everyone does in their neighborhoods. We own land along Highway 8, so I’m always eager to get out and pick up what passersby have carelessly tossed out their vehicles over the winter months. The Poskin Jets 4-H Club used to clean up the ditches on both sides of Highway 8 in the Almena area, the little kids with neon vests scrambling up and down the ditches with their black trash bags as traffic whizzed by. That form of community service got a second thought after three Girl Scouts and one mother were struck and killed by a 21-year-old driver in Chippewa County while doing the same thing in 2018. Maybe that’s not the safest activity for children, but it taught them that we all need to do our part to rid our world of litter.
Repurposing, and ditch cleanups are just two practices in an eco-friendly lifestyle. There are many small ways to make a big impact: Go electricity free on Earth Day. Burn calories, not rubber, by walking instead of driving. Refill and reuse sturdy water bottles instead of using the disposable flimsy plastic ones that, if not tossed in ditches, are filling up landfills. Make your yard bird-friendly. Plant clover for the bees and milkweed for the butterflies. Start a compost pile. Switch from receiving paper bills to e-bills. Fix leaky faucets. Update to more energy-saving light bulbs.
Remember the three Rs — reduce, reuse and recycle. Let’s all agree to be friendly to the environment on Earth Day and every day.