Yesterday was Earth Day, and while I am a day late, I AM still on Earth. And as the environmental issues that face our planet were not solved while I slept last night, I figured it’d be safe to continue the theme at least into today.
There’s been a lot of talk, maybe too much, of the whole global warming issue. There are a lot of folks who don’t believe it’s happening, and somehow, this translates into a complete lack of concern for all facets of the environment. Whether it is or not, though, is, to me, a non-issue. I think it’s all too abstract for most people. When even the scientists don’t know and can’t agree on what’s happening, it’s unlikely that John Q. Public is going to have it all dialed in.
When I was a kid, we were regularly exhorted by Smokey the Bear and Woodsy the Owl to not start forest fires by flicking our butts into the woods and to give a hoot and not pollute, and I think people get that. They can feel their eyes burn from exhaust and smoke when they work or play outside. They can see what litter does to their parks. They can feel the revulsion when they see that the waterways around them foamy and bubbling with all kinds of things that don’t look like water. You can talk about emissions and greenhouse gases and carbon footprints all you want—it’s the same stuff we used to call “pollution”—but there’s nothing quite so bracingly educational as explaining to your child why all those dead fish are floating on the waterway, why they’re not allowed to swim in certain lakes, what that awful smell is. I think when we got away from that, we lost a lot of people’s connection between their actions and the environmental consequences thereof.
Litter is a particular peeve of mine, because while a person may not reasonably be able to limit how much they drive, or directly affect melting icecaps, there is no reason a person cannot make sure garbage is put where it belongs. I was appalled by the amount of litter and pollution I saw everywhere we went in Cozumel. The beaches were filled with it, turning what should’ve been a beach paradise into a full-island landfill. My entire family picked up garbage here and there as we walked on the beach, but a thorough effort would’ve taken months and many hands. I am appalled as I drive down the road in my own town and watch people throw garbage out their windows, or dump it in parking lots. I think it bugs me most because it’s so stupid; one of the laws of nature, one all animals know, is that you don’t shit where you eat. To me, that is the simplest reason to do what you can for the environment. This is where we live; why would you want to ruin it? You don’t have to chain yourself to a tree in front of bulldozers in the Amazon to be an environmentalist; all you have to do is try not to be overly wasteful and make sure your trash is handled responsibly. Easy. And yet, still too difficult for some to bother with; but if each of us does a little, that’s an immense improvement over a few of us living off the grid in a yurt where we make our own yogurt from yak’s milk.
I’m not a strenuously outdoor person who likes to take a 60-lb. pack up a mountain or down into a canyon, but I appreciate nature. I am delighted by birdsong, impressed by the natural symmetry of leaves, and humbled by the grandeur of the redwoods, the Great Lakes, the Grand Canyon. I’ve heard some people say that the scale of nature makes them feel really small and insignificant; that’s never been the case for me. Rather, the scale of nature makes my PROBLEMS feel really small and insignificant. When I was having the roughest time of my life in 2006-2007, sitting on the beach of Lake Superior near its narrowest point and still not being able to see the other side across its silver waters, where many families besides my own had gathered for untold generations, gave me a sense of history and perspective. Likewise when I put my arms around a 600-year-old redwood in the middle of a rainforest; knowing it had been there long before I had arrived on the scene, and would no doubt be there long after I was gone, made everything I was facing just a little less overwhelming. And I think it helped me realize that I was part of nature, too, part of that great, flowing, inexorable groove-machine that is the world. Which is another reason to take care of our environment—what happens to the frogs and the fish will happen to us, too. We are animals in the ecosystem, and not immune to the damage we cause.
In honor of Earth Day, I have created a topical playlist, the contents of which you may help yourself to by clicking here to download the zipped file. Commentary on the song choices after the cut, if’n you’re curious.
Your Crunch Granola Earth Day Mix
1. Mother Nature’s Son (The Beatles )
This is one of my favorite Beatles songs…which doesn’t narrow it down all that much, but in these 2 minutes and 48 seconds, you can take a Waldenesque mind vacation. I go to my cabin on the Brule in Wisconsin, where the sound you hear most often is the wind in the birch and the dull roar of the waves of Lake Superior a couple blocks away.
2. If a Tree Falls (Bruce Cockburn )
Clear-cutting is a dangerous business. It killed no less than the Mayan empire; we can’t underestimate its lethality. We need trees, to hold the earth we live on in place and to make the oxygen we need to breathe. Bruce Cockburn is an enduring hippie, dog love ‘im.
3. Shapes Of Things (The Yardbirds)
“Now the trees are almost green.
But will they still be seen?
When time and tide have been.
Fall into your passing hands.
Please don’t destroy these lands.
Don’t make them desert sands.”
I live in a really green desert; out-of-towners are surprised to see so many things growing here—trees, cactus, shrubs, wildflowers. It’s one of the reason I like Tucson over Phoenix, where they paved everything, pulled out the cacti, and put in lawns, making it look like any city in the nation. So it is especially jarring when you come across a plot where they’ve razed the desert down to the bland dirt to make way for construction of some sort, saving nothing to keep the Old Pueblo looking like itself.
4. Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
A classic…no Earth Day mix would be complete without it.
5. My City Was Gone (The Pretenders)
When I was a kid, we watched this film in school about the history of the Great Lakes. I’ve seen it a few times over the years, as I grew up on 2 of the lakes—Superior and Michigan. In the film, there’s a rustic guy taking his canoe through the lakes over millions of years as the land rises and falls with glacier movement and other geologic changes. He ends up in the lower Great Lakes, floating through disgusting foamy muck of a kind I saw on all kinds of waterways when I was a kid. Whenever I think of pollution, that’s what sticks in my head. It was common knowledge at that time that the lower Great Lakes were highly polluted, due to water flow, I suppose, and the amount of heavy industry down there. I also remember learning (later) about the Cuyahoga River (mentioned in the song) in Cleveland, where the water was so polluted, the river was regularly on fire. Chrissie Hynde is from Akron. I’ve been to Akron. There’s a city there, but it really was kind of short on pretty countryside. Driving into town from Cleveland, all I remember is endless road construction on the interstate to widen it even further.
6. Natural Resources (Utah Philips & Ani DiFranco)
My brother gave me the album this song appears on. Utah Phillips was a liberal folksinger and raconteur of the highest order; he passed away just about 2 years ago. I always wanted to go see him, but he was never in California when I was, and ill health kept him close to home in his last years. But this song always hit home for me; I never cared for being referred to as a “valuable natural resource” when I was a kid. Too capitalist for me—I was just something to be ground up and used to make money for others? That may be the truth, but it’s worth fighting where you can.
7. Nature’s Way (Spirit)
There are all kinds of canaries in our particular coal mine, if only we’d hear their song.
8. To the Last Whale…Critical Mass/Wind on the Water (Crosby & Nash)
I think I first heard this song on an Earth Day mix on KFOG’s 10@10 some years ago, and I thought it was pretty, yet melancholy. Plus, for me, any permutation or subset of Crosby, Stills and & Nash is a sure thing. (I can do entirely without Young; no offense, Neil.) It evoked for me the story a fellow guitar camper told about a friend of hers being part of the group that freed a whale caught in fishing nets off the Farallon Islands, off the coast of San Francisco; she’d turned that tale into a song that she shared with us.
9. The Promise (The Dolphin Song) (Olivia Newton-John)
Continuing the cetacean theme is this song which was actually written by Olivia Newton-John herself; (she mostly sang other people’s songs.) This was off ONJ’s Physical album, which came out in 1981. I was a big ONJ fan, as Grease had come out in ’78, and Xanadu in ’80. It’s a bit schmaltzy, and perhaps overly aspirational in regards to dolphins being the saviors of our world, but in retrospect, I find it charming, both for its innocence, and my own at the time I discovered the song on my new record (and it was a real record!) I was only 10, and I was inclined to believe her. Nearly 30 years later, as my family was debating whether or not we would swim with the dolphins while we were in Cozumel, I saw the pictures of kids holding onto the dolphins’ fins for dear life, and I wondered if such a thing were actually okay for dolphins. My research told me no, and went on to describe the violence involved in catching the dolphins to begin with, plus the poor conditions most of them live in in these dolphin encounter enclosures. I passed. As much as I’d love to swim with dolphins, it’ll have to happen by chance in the wild or not at all.
10. People Got a Lotta Nerve (Neko Case)
I recently read an interview with Neko Case about her latest album (whence this song comes), and she talked about how this song isn’t metaphorical at all; it’s about animals in captivity and how people shouldn’t be surprised when bad things happen when you’re trying to control large, wild animals. I agree; the recent tragedy at SeaWorld made me sad for the trainer who died, and her family and friends, but also made me shake my head in anything but surprise. It’s going to happen; you’re not supposed to cage whales, among other things.
11. River Valley (Moxy Früvous)
I like the narrative style of this song, from the point of view of a man who works in a place that is doing bad things, but needs his job, and his kid who is told to avoid playing in certain places, and who sees the results of pollution. It is a known fact of business that it is cheaper to pay fines to the EPA than it is to stop polluting. Until that changes, the problem won’t go away. Most people won’t do the right thing until it is financially punitive for them to do otherwise. (Recall the whining of those who had to put gas in their SUVs in the last few years.)
12. Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) (Marvin Gaye)
Another classic it would’ve been criminal to leave out. Besides, nobody makes ecology sexier than the late great Marvin Gaye.
13. Gaia (James Taylor)
Gaia is the Greek mother earth goddess; she is the earth itself. This is off my favorite JT album, Hourglass.
14. Spirit of the Land (Hothouse Flowers)
Some people are touched by the spirit of the land; others are not. After many years of wanting to go (we had meant it to be our honeymoon), we finally made it to the Grand Canyon for someone else’s wedding. As we stood on the South Rim, I was made speechless by the awesome (in the grandest sense of the word) beauty before me. I turned to Scott and said, “Unbelievable. It’s even more beautiful than it seems in pictures. Isn’t it amazing?”
He said, “It’s a big hole.”
15. Only So Much Oil In the Ground (Tower Of Power)
This song came out on their Urban Renewal album in 1975, and is as pertinent today as it was then. Maybe more so. After the oil crisis of the ‘70s, we put away the big cars and bought small gas-sippers; and then we forgot all about it over the next 35 years. Today’s SUV is yesterday’s Cadillac. Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are without a doubt going to repeat them; somehow I doubt it’ll stick until crude oil is a memory.
16. Perfect World (Indigo Girls)
I tend to believe that global warming is, in part, an unavoidable geological event, and not entirely fixable. Planet Earth has been cold and warm over and over again since it first formed, and nothing we do is going to stop that. That said, we may well be making it worse, and should do what we can about pollution. But a lot of people insist that everything is just fine. ‘Tain’t.
17. Save The World (George Harrison )
If we don’t, who is going to?