Usually, when I publish pictures of swans, I clean up the water, but these are the originals … the way the photographs looked before clearing out the rubbish.
As we again approach America’s “Earth Day,” I find myself ready to go on the “lecture tour.” I grew up in a country setting. Technically, it was part of New York, but really, it was a strange little farming community that got surrounded by a city, but never became a part of it.
I grew up with people who raised plants. Wheat and corn. Who raised horses and burros and geese. Who nursed sick birds. Who cared for the trees.
We were surrounded by woods and trees. We learned how to find rare plants and we played in the woods … and apparently children don’t notice mosquitoes as do their elders because we must have been chewed to pieces. But we never seemed to care.
That didn’t make me “ecology” conscious, of course. What made me conscious of the ecology was — you guessed it — my mother. She grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. That was where most new immigrants grew up, especially Jewish and Italian immigrants.
As a result, my mother believed all trees were sacred — and her personal crusade. She could not bear the idea of anyone cutting down a tree and that’s why we had so much land. When our neighbors decided to sell the woods next to our house, my mother told my father that he was going to borrow however much money it would cost him to get that parcel because someone else might build factory or an apartment house.
Those were her trees. Really, they were all her trees. From tiny little sprigs to the giant white oaks that towered over the house, they were hers.
Every year, she called the city’s tree specialists to check out the condition of the white oaks on our property. They were the last remaining white oaks in the five Burroughs, all the rest having been cut down to use as masts on sailing ships. How they missed that little corner of New York? Just luck.
I still hate the idea of cutting down trees, even when its obvious the tree needs cutting. We had to take down some trees that were too close to the chimney and we had a cutter come and cut down about two dozen more oaks because they were growing so close together, it was unhealthy. Also, we had no light in the house at all. But it hurt me to see the trees being felled, even though it was necessary, safe, and would in the end, improve the forest.
I grew up hating trash. I grew up believing littering was a crime. That hurting any living creature was cruel and even though I never made it to vegetarian, I feel guilty eating meat. I don’t believe that vegan is a healthier way to eat, but I dislike knowing something died so I could eat. I don’t think it will ever stop bothering me.
I learned early that breakwaters damaged the sea-shore. That sandy beaches can disappear during a hurricane. Several local beaches did exactly that while I was growing up on Long Island. That dune buggies destroy the dunes, the nests, the birds, the baby birds.
And my loathing of people who throw trash into the woods or the river grows with every passing year. Every time we go down to the river to take pictures of the swans, I see them swimming through trash and wonder how they can eat whatever is growing in the grungy water that’s full of filth.
It wasn’t hard to make me ecologically conscious and six years working at the University of Jerusalem’s Environmental Health Laboratory taught me much more than I wanted to know. I saw the plumes of pollution pouring out of the rivers into the Mediterranean. I saw the reports of what was in those plumes.
I understood also that just because a microbe is in the water does not mean you will necessarily catch it because not all microbes are absorbed the same way … but after seeing those pictures, I could never bring myself to swim in the Mediterranean again.
At this point, I don’t even like swimming pools. All I see are tubs of microbes.