Loving the Earth
Gary Paul Nabhan is a graduate of the CAC’s Living School and a professed member of the Ecumenical Order of Franciscans. A conservation biologist, orchard-keeper, and storyteller, he shares about his involvement in the first Earth Day celebration in 1970:
What if getting our relationship right with the Earth and all its creatures is not the scenic backdrop of some circus sideshow but as crucial as getting our relations right with our Creator, our family, and our neighbors? What if all of Creation is the most palpable expression of our Creator’s generosity, sense of wonder, and commitment to diversity? What happens if we begin to include the fungi, the flowers, the fritillary butterflies, and the flocks of wild geese as our neighbors, our family, and our Creator’s expressive face?
Nearly fifty years ago, as a seventeen-year-old, I worked as a volunteer doing articles, graphics, and cartoons for the Environmental Action news magazine at the headquarters for the initial Earth Day. I was one of a dozen youth and young adults who worked there, preparing for the participation of twenty million people around the world in the first-ever global recognition of the Earth’s sacredness and its vulnerability. Some of the staff were veterans of Civil Rights Summer in the South; others were conscientious objectors who wanted to “study war no more.” We were out to do something affirmative, something inclusive—not a protest, but a celebration.
On Earth Day itself, I was sent to a small Catholic college near the Mississippi River to be the youngest presenter at a campus-wide convocation. . . .
I have no idea what I said that day. I simply looked out the windows above the assembly, watching eagles move among the towering trees growing along the banks of a tributary of the Mississippi as the water moved forward and blended into the Big Muddy itself.
Whatever words I spoke were directed toward those eagles as much as they were to the humans assembled there that day; to the catfish in the river as much as to the Christian community; a call of the wild as much as a call for a communion of all races, faiths, and classes.
Actually, I can’t recall that any words spilled out my mouth that morning. I am not at all sure that my voice was heard—let alone remembered—by anyone present that first Earth Day morning, but that did not matter much to me. I felt as though I was present at the dawning of Creation, at the first sanctioned gathering of two-leggeds, four-leggeds, winged ones, and rooted ones where all came to express their joy in being part of this sacred place that was careening through space and time.
It is true: whenever any of us feels gratitude for all of Earth’s creatures, we have become fully Present, fully alive ourselves.
That may be what Saint Francis of Assisi meant when he urged us to “go out and preach the Good News and only when necessary use words.”
Gary Paul Nabhan, “Getting the Earth’s Sacredness Right Every Earth Day,” Living School Alumni Quarterly, issue 2 (Spring 2019): 28–29.
Image credit: Claudia Retter, Three Fish (details), photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.
Image inspiration: We might find ourselves swimming against the current, but we’ve made a conscious decision to practice something different in response to an inner call.