Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 645(158) Elders and Environment

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

David Suzuki is probably the most respected and well known environmentalist in Canada. He writes books, host TV programs, speaks all over the world, and is in the process of staring in a feature film concerning global climate change. Miles Richardson is the chief of the Haida First Nations Tribe in Canada. They were the featured speakers at a conference on Elders and the Environment that I attended a few years ago.

Who first introduced you into caring about the environment? That’s one of the first questions we addressed at the workshop. I had never considered such a question.  It is one worth considering. We all paused and looked down and then up. It was silent. A few minutes passed and then we were asked to write down our thoughts. The answers were varied.

As for me, I grew up on acreage in the Midwest. We had a large garden, a cow, a few hogs, and chickens, an orchard, and even a pony. We had a practical introduction to nature and what it meant to take good care. We learned how important clean water, food and care were to animals and plants. We learned about death and decay. We learned about rotation of crops and nature’s whims.

My grandparents worked a farm only 8 miles away. Here all of the animals and crops of a real farm were my school. My grandfather loved to take me on his lap and talk about what and why we were doing something while the horses pulled the wagons or the tractor labored with some implement or another trailing along behind. He taught me the importance of providing good care to the land. I think those are the two places that I learned to care for the natural environment. I had never thought of this before.

The next question was: Who was your mentor in the environmental movement? Rachel Carson and her book “Silent Spring” popped into my mind instantly. Also Garret Hardin who wrote a book entitled, “The Tragedy of the Commons”.  Those two really helped enlighten my mind on the damage we were doing. Something had to be done. I read those in ’68 or ’69. I later read that Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” is what launched David Suzuki on his life-long pursuit.

Another question that we discussed was: what have you personally done to help the environment? I would suggest you pause here and consider the question yourself. We all wrote our answers on a piece of paper. My answer to this question grew out of the last question. After reading the books “Silent Spring” and “Tragedy of Commons” I walked down to the principal’s office in Anchorage and suggested that we teach a class based on those two books. It was the spring of l968. In the spring of ’69 I started teaching a class entitled: Environment. We used several books, but we certainly based the class around the above mentioned. That April the first Earth Day was celebrated across the world. My students asked me if we were going to participate and I passed it off as just a little demonstration fade. I replied that, “we need more than a day. We need every day to be focused on the environment;” one more example of my being wrong headed. We should have participated. Earth day has become very important. Other examples of what we had individually done related to the environment tumbled across the table: sold the car, biked to work, planted a garden, became a vegetarian, recycled, composed, changed light bulbs to fluorescent, buying local grown produce, chose my residence carefully so it would be in a walkable  neighborhood, etc.

The connection between the Elders and the Environment was driven home by Miles Richardson from the Haida Nation. People who have gained knowledge, achieved successful actions and gained wisdom are considered Elders by First Nations People. These Elders need to be consulted; they need to be listened too, they need to lead by word and deed. He related several stories illustrating this process.

We sat around tables in the Vancouver Library for the entire day trying to figure out what we could do to help guide our communities of families, neighbors and countries in a more environmentally aware way. Our general conclusion was that we need to share our stories with our children, with our grandchildren and with our neighbors. We need to make an effort to share our concern.

The conference was interesting and well received. The hall was packed. The participants were well mannered and enthusiastic. It felt good to look around at people that tended into their sixties, seventies and eighties and were still bound and determined to influence the world in a positive way.

What are you doing in retirement? People are always asking that question. The environment is always in need of another hand. More so today than any time in the past.

This is Retirement Talk.

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