Heroes of Nature

Our Children's Blue Earth Photo by NASA

Put the environment on your radar as we celebrate Earth Day on April 22 and Arbor Day on April 29. A few weeks ago in D.C., I walked with my daughter around the Tidal Basin beneath arching branches of creamy white and pink cherry blossoms. These trees are nearly 100 years old and were a gift from Japan to the United States during President Taft’s presidency. There were several key people on the U.S. end who brought this idea to fruition, including First Lady Helen Taft, Dr. David Fairchild and Eliza Ruhama Scidmore. Mrs. Scidmore campaigned for 24 years to see cherry trees planted along the Potomac River. In his enthusiasm, Dr. Fairchild presented cherry tree saplings to schoolchildren in every District of Columbia school for Arbor Day in 1908.
The first Arbor Day was held in Nebraska in 1872. J. Sterling Morton promoted the planting of trees in his community using his influence as editor of the newspaper and later as secretary of the Territory of Nebraska. He touted trees for wind breaks, to hold soil and for basic esthetics. In 1872 he organized the first Arbor Day with contests and prizes for the individuals and civic organizations that properly planted the most trees. More than one million trees were planted on that day.
Another champion of Nature was Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day. In the late 60’s Senator Nelson tried to focus fellow politicians on the degradation of the environment. President Kennedy agreed to a nationwide tour to promote the issues, but the public was largely disengaged. Finally, inspired by teach-ins formed on university campuses to protest the Vietnam War, Senator Nelson launched a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment to be held on April 22, 1970. This approach touched a nerve as many citizens had concerns about pollution. Nelson: “Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.” Gaylord Nelson was a Senator for 18 years and authored legislation to create a national hiking trail system and the Appalachian Trail. He sponsored or co-sponsored key pieces of legislature such as the Wilderness Act. He laid groundwork for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act. After retiring from public service he worked as an advisor to the Wilderness Society. How heartening to see the effects of just a few dynamic leaders committed to the future. “Each generation takes the earth as trustees.” J. Sterling Morton

Facts above are from the National Parks Service, the Arbor Day Foundation and the Wilderness Society.

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3 responses to “Heroes of Nature

  1. Gail, your blog brought back memories!! I was a fifth grade student at Fairview North Elementary School in Brookfield, Wisconsin when we commemorated the first Earth Day on 4/22/70. I remember it as a really big deal at our school. Every classroom had a project and there was a school assembly. Every kid in school knew Gaylor Nelson’s name. Do you remember the commercial that ran at the time–with the trash all over the highways and in the end there was a Native American Chief looking at it with a tear in his eye? Somewhat PI, but it was a powerful message.

    I did not realize that getting the cherry blossoms to Washington DC took so long! They are absolutely stunning. I hope to be privileged to see them in person someday.

  2. We must remember to honor those who laid the foundation for future generations to continue enjoying nature, especially in densely populated metropolitan areas like Washington DC. I appreciate all of the history you shared; it’s pretty incredible to think how hard those individuals worked to bring the Cherry Blossoms to DC. I also think about how jam-packed the city was with tourists when you visited, and while we were mostly perturbed by them, it’s pretty phenomenal people want to travel from all over the world to experience the blossoms’ natural beauty. One point for nature! Boo Las Vegas! Any way you could put up one or two of your awesome pictures from the Basin?

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