It’s an eyegasm - an annual visual climax in the woods near my home. For about a week every spring, just around Earth Day, the bluebells bloom and cover the entire forest floor. People come from miles around to see it.
It’s impossible to photograph. I’ve spent hours futzing around with a backpack full of expensive camera gear: composing, adjusting, waiting for the light, but have never captured anything better than the offhand smartphone snapshot. I imagine God saying, “sorry Chris, this is my masterpiece, not yours”.
The mixed blues and greens remind me of the earth-from-space images where, from a distance, everything looks peaceful and clean. If only it were so.
I love the earth - I’m awed and amazed by it. People of faith might use the word creation and others might use the word nature but whatever you call it, it is staggeringly mysterious, miraculous, frightful and beautiful. Today I saw my first butterfly of the springtime, and my first family of goslings, and a mother rabbit burrowing in my garden, and those bluebells in the woods. Those intricately interrelated systems of biology and chemistry and energy and physics that make up our home planet are incredible to the point that I’ve never needed science fiction in my life - I mean - look around - you can’t make up anything better than this.
Earth is a bountiful, beautiful home that provides for our every need and it grieves me that we’ve treated it so poorly for so long: wantonly taking from the ground and the water and the air, and recklessly excreting our smoke, our sludge and our solids. In the early years of industrialization we may not have known better, but we do now, and yet we argue about adopting rules that would keep our water and our air and our soil clean. We argue about whether to explore technologies that might provide cleaner energy. We argue about whether the climate is changing, and if so, who or what is to blame.
On the huge issue of climate change, it is hard to know who to believe. I’m not a scientist, but I have huge respect for the scientific community, the majority of which seems to be telling me that the earth is warming at an alarming rate. They have figures to back this up, and the figures don’t lie. On the other hand, it was a scientist who first told me that “the figures don’t lie, but liars can figure”.
There is a small, but significant, community of folks who either deny that the climate is changing, or who say that it is part of a natural process - not human-influenced. These folks have figures, too. Just yesterday in geologic time, this place where I live was under a sheet of ice. People didn’t cause the ice to melt, so maybe this global warming thing has been going on for a long time.
I don’t know whether it’s our fault that the globe is warming or not. But there’s a short-sightedness on the side of the climate-change deniers … a short-sightedness that has nothing to do with the climate, or science, and has everything to do with attitude. The deniers’ attitude seems to suggest that the Earth will always be able to absorb whatever messes we make, with no repercussions for us. The deniers’ attitude seems to suggest that sustaining today’s economy is more important than sustaining tomorrow’s Earth.
When new, cleaner, greener technologies first emerge, they often aren’t very good substitutes for the way we do things, now. But to not want to move forward into exploring cleaner ways to live is to assume that we’ve reached our peak - that we’re doing the best that we will ever be capable of doing - and that’s a ridiculous assumption to make. It is an assumption that has never - never in human history - been true.
When hybrid automobiles were first introduced, I had a friend who said we shouldn’t be wasting our time with such things. Hybrids are slow and the batteries are heavy and there’s plenty of oil and gas, he said. And he was right - those first hybrids were expensive and awful. But the technology had to start somewhere, and now, there are all kinds of hybrid cars that are actually pretty good.
The same is true with alternative energy sources. There are those who think that solar cells and wind turbines are a waste of time because they don’t produce power as efficiently as fossil fuels. But now, in 2017, my state is close to producing one third of its electricity from clean and renewable sources. Burning dead dinosaurs might be the most cost-effective energy solution that we have right now, but that isn’t always going to be the case. Doesn’t it make sense to be working today on clean, reliable energy solutions for tomorrow?
In the course of our daily lives, we excavate, exfoliate, execute and exhaust. I don’t point that out to make us the villain in this story, because the march of human progress is nothing short of miraculous. But it is important for us to realize that everything we have, every thing, every single thing, that each of the seven billion humans on this planet has, was either mined or harvested from the Earth. The agricultural and industrial processes that produced your phone and your clothing and your food took something from the Earth, and left a scar somewhere. If we’re going to be good to the Earth and good for the Earth, we have to understand this and be willing to explore changes in the way we feed, clothe and equip ourselves.
As I sit here in the woods (probably in a thicket of immature poison ivy), surrounded by the bluebells, I’m not really thinking about global warming. I’m thinking about how hard good nature photography is. The blues and greens shift my mind to some of the most amazing images ever captured - ones that stopped everyone in their tracks and made them catch their breath and left them speechless: those first images of Earth from space.
You know that when you’re going to take a picture of something big, you have to stand back a ways to fit it into the frame. When our Apollo astronauts landed on the moon they were finally standing back far enough to be able to point the camera toward home and see the earth as a single sphere against the infinite void of space. While those images are commonplace now, they weren’t back then. They were new and amazing and we’d never seen anything like them before.
If God has ever spoken to us through photography, it was that first time in 1969 when we watched the Earth rise from the horizon of the moon. Even today I get goosebumps, watery eyes, and a lumpy throat when I look at that shaky, handheld footage and contemplate the awesomeness of creation. The message in the imagery is clear and unmistakable, we’re all in this together, we all live in this one place, and it is amazingly beautiful, and amazingly bountiful and it is good.
When I see the big picture, I realize it isn’t important for me to fully understand every environmental issue, which is good because I don’t have the time or the energy or the brainpower to sort it all out. Instead, the simple concept of stewardship comes to mind: taking good care of the assets we have - not because science says so, but because it is the right thing to do. Words like legacy, responsibility and respect come to mind.
Today is April 22, Earth Day. I celebrate the awesomeness of the Earth, and I celebrate the privilege it is for me to be a tiny part of the great story of creation. I hope you celebrate that, too. Happy Earth Day.