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POSTED: May 10, 2008 5:00 a.m.
To celebrate Earth Day one year, my husband dressed as a raven and I as an eagle, and we entered the wildlife parade in Sitka, Alaska.
We were working there for a month. We dressed as the two birds in honor of the Tlingits, native people of the Alaskan coast, all of whom belong to and marry between two clans, Eagle and Raven.
The evening before the parade my husband and I worked for hours, gluing white crepe-paper feathers on Eagle's cardboard head, fashioning wing-like cloaks, making Raven's black beak. The next day we led a menagerie of schoolchildren wearing butterfly wings and bunny ears in a small parade through Sitka.
This year, communities across the world celebrated Earth Day with recycling drives, alternative-fuel-vehicle fairs, plant giveaways, poster contests, street festivals, field trips, fireworks displays, canoe runs, lectures, and beach cleanups. They even celebrated with surfing contests and pet-blessing services.
Thousands of Americans participated.
I have always thought holidays a little ludicrous. They become so money-hungry. Even Anna Jarvis, the woman credited with the idea of a Mothers Day, was arrested for disrupting a Mothers Day celebration. Before her death she told a reporter she wished she had never started the holiday because it had become so commercialized.
The first Earth Day took place April 22, 1970. It is the brainchild of Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin who helped ban the use of DDT and Agent Orange. Nelson had become increasingly concerned that the state of our environment was "simply a non-issue in the politics of the country."  After studying the Vietnam protests, he set about to organize a massive grassroots teach-in against environmental destruction.
That first Earth Day, 20 million people, mostly university students, took to the streets.
Over the years, the holiday has degenerated into a Keep America Beautiful love-fest. Polluters attempt to greenwash their images by signing on as corporate sponsors. Hundreds flock to street festivals, throwaway coffee cups in hand, driving their SUVs from starter castles built on the vestiges of wild land.
The day has lost its outrage.
I am calling for a real Earth Day. We'll have a paid national holiday. Nobody goes to work. Here's how we'll celebrate: We won't get in our cars, not at all. We won't buy anything -- no planet-shaped chocolates, no strands of green lights, no big blow-up replicas of Earth to tether in our front yards. We won't buy so much as a newspaper. We'll start our gardens. We won't turn on the television all day.
We will force ourselves to be still long enough to think about what our actions and our inactions are doing to the earth.
All day we'll listen to the songbirds among the spring flowers.

Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, celebrated Earth Day this year at Lynchburg College in Virginia, where the students have organized a green fair and are planting flowers on the campus green.

 

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