By Dan Kirk
Think about Earth Day differently this year. For me, the way I’m reflecting on Earth Day is poetic and conceptual and non-linear (dare I say, cyclical). As much as we are resilient, as much as trees are strong, as powerful as the ocean is, the Earth is small and we are fragile. And how about in this moment where we focus on resilience in order to reimagine futures, we also welcome fragility and vulnerability in our process of re-imagining how we connect with our environment and even how we celebrate Earth Day.
I recently witnessed a poet re-examining her work. She is a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation and wrote a book of poetry in response to Barack Obama’s Congressional Resolution of Apology to Native Americans. In one of her poems, she writes using the same Lakota word sprinkled throughout the poem. In her effort to go back and examine this poem, she keeps the Lakota word in black ink, and turns the rest of the English text to light grey. Before, the word seemed powerful, resilient in it’s position within the English words. After the word was highlighted with all the English language in light grey, I witnessed its isolation, its loneliness, its vulnerability. Although the poem is beautiful and uses native language where English is the dominant language, I, along with the poet, was able to think about how this poem continues to perpetuate colonial power structures through this exercise of process of elimination.
What we often see as a visual of planet Earth is an image taken from outer space with soft marbled colors of blues and greens and whites that surround Earth – it’s large and the planet takes up most of the frame. We even see it everytime we watch a Universal Studios movie (the words Universal Studios circles around the planet). Similar to the exercise with the poem, what if we shift our perspective of how we view planet Earth? This has actually already been done, some 30 years ago when the Voyager 1 spacecraft captured planetary images, including Earth, from 4 billion miles away! In the image, Earth is caught in the center of scattered light rays from the sun, and it appears as a tiny point of light, less than 1 pixel in size. Carl Segan, the famous astronomer and planetary scientist who worked on getting Voyager 1 out into space, speaks about this image in his 1994 book Pale Blue Dot:
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. “
This month of April, as you reflect on your natural environment and your communities on planet Earth either by participating in a cleanup, by walking around your watershed (maybe by participating in The Watershed Project’s Earth Day Challenges), consider some other exercise you can do to help re-imagine and shift the narrative of what it means to appreciate Earth. Maybe you will write some poems, maybe you will imagine yourself simply in the vastness of space. Whatever it is, make yourself vulnerable and see what opens up from there.