Gather ‘round, youngsters, for a tale from the old guy about the first Earth Day, way back in 1970. It may be hard to believe, given how loudly businesses are crowing about Earth Day ’09 activities, but participating in that first observance was a highly controversial thing. It was intended as a virtual Woodstock of sorts, and taking action was a bold statement that you were going to let your freak flag fly.
So there I was in the big field outside St. Mary’s Elementary School in Roslyn, N.Y., sweating in my green plaid blazer and clip-on necktie as I stooped to pick up litter, the big environmental scourge back then. Our 7th Grade teacher, the young and nonconforming Mr. Casey, had decided we were going to observe this bit of harmonic convergence. Off we went with trash bags, no doubt walking to the field in a perfect line, the boys in their matching junior-executive attire, the girls in jumpers whose skirt had to be below the knee.
We drew plenty of stares from kids in the other classes, and the nuns must’ve been wilting their wimples. Because the field was by the road, cars would slow to take in this dangerous spectacle, the world unraveling right there in River City. This was the type of behavior that led to long hair and loud music, to which Mr. Casey was also introducing us. Regardless of how we looked, here's a picture of what those passers-by saw.
I realize now that, at age 28, he was just a kid himself. I can only imagine what heat he drew from Sister Mary Robertine, the principal who probably studied the Third Reich for management tips. It was bad enough he played Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Tom Rush in our music class. Now he was turning us into hippies.
Today, of course, Earth Day has gone mainstream. That’s a great, great thing, but I’m proud to say that I was eco before eco was cool.