In 1970, Earth Day was anointed as an annual day to recognize the relationship between humans and our home, the earth. As I recall, Earth Day was not a major day of recognition where I lived at the time. I was twenty-two years old and working hard to earn my teaching degree at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. My husband Lt. James L. Hull was in pilot training at Reese Air Force Base and committed to earn his wings in the Air Force. Amid everything else we had going on, this new holiday had not yet grabbed our attention, as was the case for many folks at the time. However, this would soon change.
Time passed by quickly as life does. I became a schoolteacher and later became a school superintendent. As my career in education grew, so too did the significance of Earth Day. Earth Day had become a permanent fixture in our nation’s public consciousness, and it was celebrated and acknowledged in the schools where I worked.
Every year, the children in our elementary schools and I would get together to plant flowers in front of the administration building where I worked. I enjoyed planting with the children and they clearly enjoyed our work together too. Their eyes would light up as they dug their hands into the earth, feeling the soil sift through their fingers. I remember watching the children gently patting the flowers into the ground, seeming to understand that they held the delicate lives of the plants in their hands.
The success of the annual flower-planting lead to district-wide trash pick-ups at each school. Teachers, students of all ages, and I teamed up to clean up our schools and discuss the significant, positive impact of small actions like recycling and picking up trash. At the end of each trash pick-up day, the students took pride in seeing the fruits of their labor. They enjoyed having clean recess areas and trash-free grass to play on and felt good knowing that their efforts had created better conditions for the earth and for themselves. The payoff for both the flower planting and the trash pick-up was immediate: they could see the power they have to make the world a cleaner, healthier, and more beautiful place.
When I announced my retirement as an educator, the PTO hosted a farewell get-together for me and the community. So many of the children joined their parents at the event, and several of the children recalled planting flowers in the spring with me. Then, years later when I celebrated the debut of my first book Where the Water Meets the Sand at the Oak Park Country Club, several parents and teachers attended the event to support me. Talking with them afterword, many parents and students alike fondly recounted the days of my flower planting with children. I was pleasantly surprised that they remembered.
Those special years of planting flowers and banding together to pick up trash with my students have helped me to see the value of Earth Day in ways that I never could have anticipated on the inaugural Earth Day in 1970. I learned alongside the children that the future of the environment is in our hands and that we hold the power to enact more change than we may realize. Hearing my former students and their parents reminisce about our days planting flowers together has helped me to realize that our children are paying attention, and the good habits and values we teach them today will last a lifetime.
How will you be celebrating Earth Day this year, and what do you appreciate most about what our planet has given us?
© 2020 Tyra Manning