An Earth Day Lament: Fireflies, Memories, and Mental Health

We owe thanks to Wendell Berry, activist farmer, for his belief in Mother Earth.

Posted Apr 19, 2018

Source: Giphy

Earth Day is traditionally a day of gratitude for Mother Earth, a time for celebration. But this year, we are reading daily of assaults slowing undoing environmental protections.  Has anyone in this present administration ever read a poem or essay by the activist farmer from Kentucky, Wendell Berry?  He was a National Humanities Medalist in 2010. 

Is this administration familiar with the American Psychiatric Association research on the benefits of a natural environment? It was on September 12, 2016, that the APA noted: 

"One area of substantial research is the benefit of natural environments or green spaces which can provide a calming atmosphere, evoke positive emotions and facilitate learning and alertness. Experiencing nature helps people recover from the mental fatigue of work. Some research has found that activity in natural outdoor settings can help reduce the symptoms of ADHD in children."   Urban environments can be designed for better mental health. 

Earth Day was instituted in 1970 and there were more than 190 countries involved. The late Senator Gaylord Nelson (D) from Wisconsin is credited with instituting plans to preserve the work of Mother Nature through the Environmental Protection Agency.  President Obama embraced environmental protection and pushed for tough rules for safe drinking water, clean air, and clean energy.

Backsliding: On this Earth Day, if we turn to National Geographic we can easily be briefed on  the effects of pollution. Sea animals are caught in plastic. The coral reefs are decaying. Our national parks are being threatened. We need even tougher environmental regulations than those put in place by President Obama, but instead we are backsliding. Protections put in place for our children and their children are being stripped away little by little.

On February 28, 2018, National Geographic documented “A Running List of How Trump is Changing The Environment" from thwarting children’s health, climate change, and renewable energy to unleashing toxic chemicals and reversing protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  

And what is happening to the fireflies? Marc Branham, a University of Florida entomologist studies fireflies, that is, lightning bugs.  It seems there are 15 species of Kentucky -- probably thanks to Wendell Berry.  But there are just 146 species that have been identified in North America.

The mating dance of the fireflies is such a unique site that there is a lottery for parking passes in the Great Smokey Mountains.

Of porches and fireflies:  When I was growing up we were often at our grandparents home on the water.  We had a large front porch visited by neighbors, politicians, and children watching the waves, listening to the buoys, and seeing the stars. We knew about shooting stars because there was no light pollution.  We watched sunsets. And and we overheard stories of family history and planting the gardens.  

And at night, while adults traded stories we would slip to back on the house under the grape arbor. There we could see the swampy area along the side of the house and watch fireflies dancing.   We took with us Mason jars with cheese cloth tops to catch fireflies. After showing them to our parents, we had us release them back to the fields.

In reading about Berry as the 2012 Jefferson lecturer, I was reminded of my gowning up days.  In that piece David Skinner tells us about Berry:

“In one essay, he talks fondly of the days when neighbors, for lack of anything else to do after sunset, would go visiting and tell and retell the stories of their people and their place. In his gentlest moments, Berry persuades and reminds us of the wisdom to be found on a well-visited front porch.”

Copyright 2018 Rita Watson/ All Rights Reserved