Writer’s Block: Memories of Earth Day

Port Isabel-South Padre Press

This weekend will mark the 48th Earth Day — an annual day to reflect on environmental consciousness and stewardship.

It all started with a single person, Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson, who was spurred to action after seeing the detrimental effects of an oil spill. According to the Earth Day Network, Nelson was also invigorated by the energy of student-led anti-war protests at the time.

We celebrate Earth Day on April 22 every year. And it has been observed in myriad ways, from marches in Washington, D.C., to environmental awareness rallies, to grade school tree planting projects, and so much more.

In fact, it was at one such celebration when I was a child that I was first introduced to Earth Day. I was in elementary school when we had a guest speak to us about the importance of native plants and how they help sustain the balance of our local ecosystems.

We learned how those plants, acclimated to our unique environment and climate after generations upon generations of careful, natural adaptation, fit in like puzzle pieces with the various animals that live alongside them.

But we didn’t just learn these facts via lectures or photos, we learned through hands-on experience, as well. After listening to the guest explain all these interesting things to us, we got a chance to see and handle some of these native plants ourselves.

My elementary school sat on a sprawling property with plenty of green, grassy space surrounding the various buildings that housed classrooms, the gym and the cafeteria. It was on a rectangular patch of dirt halfway between my classroom and the gymnasium that we got to plant an assortment of native plants ourselves.

One small portion of our lesson on environmental stewardship would remain behind, long after we students had left the campus.

I can still remember what I got to plant. It was a young purple sage bush, also called cenizo. I remembered how beautiful it looked with its dusty grey-green leaves and delicate lavender-colored flowers.

It was hard work for a bunch of scrawny fourth graders as we tried to dig holes in the dry, unyielding earth that looked more like lifeless caliche than fertile topsoil. We worked in pairs to dig the holes. Sometimes, the adults would help us when our shovels struck a more stubborn clod of dirt.

But soon, we had a rectangle filled with holes. And beside them lay young native bushes and trees, their root balls bound in sand colored cloth which would slowly disintegrate into the dirt as the plants’ roots stretched out into the soil for purchase.

I can’t remember everything we planted. I can’t even remember who it was who came to my school to share that bit of local history with us. But, I have never forgotten about purple sage or how it fits into the Rio Grande Valley’s semi-arid, drought-prone environment.

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