She chose the best possible weather for this year’s celebration. Mother Earth was overflowing with sunshine and blossoms to commemorate her 42nd Earth Day. In 1970, the same year president Richard Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency “in order to protect human health and safeguard the natural environment — air, water and land,” U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelsen of Wisconsin, reacting to a devastating oil spill off Santa Barbara, jump-started setting aside one day a year to honor Mother.
Rick and I spent Earth Day weekend in Eugene, Ore., where special events were under way all over the city.
“Listen to Our Children” was sponsored by numerous organizations including Eugene Water and Electric Board, Lane County’s Waste Management, the Transit District, Schnitzer Steel and various Eugene media including newspapers and radio stations.
A couple of months ago the sponsors announced $1,500 in cash prizes — $500 each to three local youths K-12 — to be awarded for the “Most Compelling and Inspiring Earth Day Message — Audio, Video or Print.” I wasn’t able to get the results by the time this column was due, but I plan to track down the winners to hear what these young folks have to say.
There was live music, a “state of the region” speech by the mayor, the viewing of an animated documentary, vendors with used books, used tools and recycled garden art. Experts like master gardeners and compost specialists were on site and available to answer questions.
There was a plant sale, book swap, a walk to the river where exhibits and workshops (called Watery World at Earth Day) and a slew of workshops and activities just for kids were taking place.
Hundreds of people attended this 14th annual event that sponsors say aims to help kids and parents understand the impacts of using less with hands-on activities and giveaways.
At other Earth Day venues throughout Eugene, volunteers removed invasive species from the middle fork of the Willamette River, pulled ivy, cleaned up a park and gathered for a garden work party. Volunteers transformed into Mother’s helpers were out in force.
The variety of activities in Eugene seemed oddly juxtaposed to what didn’t happen here locally as the once-popular Earth Day event sponsored by Del Norte Solid Waste Authority was not scheduled for 2012.
Rick and I went to Eugene’s Saturday Market, which also started in 1970 and boasts being the nation’s oldest open-air crafts market. The vendors who make up the market’s food court serve their delicious offerings on plates made of recycled materials and give you metal forks and spoons to use. There’s an abundance of recycle bins for food waste, paper products and the silverware which is washed and re-used each week.
Musicians took turns entertaining on the food court stage while tables turned over quickly as diners acknowledge the limited seating and only use a chair as long as they need it to finish their meal.
We strolled through several city blocks of booths overflowing with locally grown food, plant starts, all kinds of crafts and some rarely-available-in-Del Norte-services like henna tattoos. I was tempted, but didn’t have the time.
After my snack of vegan tamales and Rick’s banana crepe, we left the market to visit one of Mother Nature’s little secrets, the nearby Owen Memorial Rose Garden. Sprawled alongside the banks of the Willamette River near the Washington-Jefferson Street Bridge, the park is as old as I am. It began when Eugene city councilor and lumberman George Owen donated five acres with his house to the City. Now there are 4,500 rose bushes planted there representing over 400 varieties.
Besides rose bushes (which are not blooming yet), there are pergola-lined walkways, a gazebo, an arbor picnic area and some of the most spectacular spring-blossoming trees I’ve ever seen. They were showing off their colors, posing for amateur photographers who attempted to capture the perfection of this spring day.
Under the bridge a different type of celebration was taking place. I heard music and walked toward the river to take a closer look at the area next to the playground. At first I thought it was a family reunion – and in a way it was. Besides live music, there were refreshments and folks eating their meals at tables on folding chairs. Off to my left a table overflowing with coats and jackets kept a Vietnam veteran and a young woman busy as they sorted through and tried on for a good fit. This, I discovered, was the weekly Saturday Washington-Jefferson Street Bridge soup kitchen.
No one can argue that Mother and her children need all the help we can give. This Earth Day I was reminded of all my good fortune and all the responsibility that comes with it.
Reach Michele Thomas, the Del Norte Triplicate’s publisher, at email@example.com, 464-2141 or stop by 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.