Editor’s note: This commentary is part of a regular series, Green Briefs, written by eco-leaders on Vashon, for The Whole Vashon Project. To find out more about the work of this group, visit wholevashonproject.com.
Earth Day celebrations around the world involve billions of Earth’s citizens who are trying to clean up and heal the planet through advocacy, education, citizen science and art.
We realize our home planet is facing massive challenges from loss of biodiversity, pollution, ecosystem degradation, and climate change, all resulting from human activities. As we celebrate the 52nd Earth Day, some may wonder what happened on the previous 51 Earth Days here.
Luckily, we have The Beachcomber and other island publications as well as islanders’ memories to fill in the blanks. This look-back draws on the printed record and it highlights but a few of the diverse island activities, representing the tip of the iceberg of a rich legacy.
Mrs. Enid Dolstad led the first three Vashon Earth Day Committees from 1970 to 1972. The group promoted awareness of specific problems such as pesticides and pollution with seminars, litter pickups, tree plantings and bike rides to reduce driving. Activities featured all three VISD schools. In 1971, Earth Day volunteers gave away 3,000 small Scotch Pine trees to illustrate the need for trees in fighting pollution, and glass recycling began on Vashon.
Surprisingly, The Beachcomber lacks any mention of Earth Day from 1973 to 1989. Vashon apparently took a nearly two-decade published-record break from ED. Jodi Greer asked in the May 10, 1974 issue of the Vashon Voices newsletter: “Whatever happened to Earth Day?” and suggested, “we do need an Earth Day …every day.”
The mid-1970s brought Watergate and growing inflation yet earth shoes were the rage. Did Vashon follow the rest of the country during the Reagan years when more was better, yuppies replaced hippies, and the “me” generation was born encouraging consumerism, focusing more on trickle-down economics and energy independence than the environment? Or perhaps the earlier Island organizers suffered burn-out and were busy dealing with other challenges of the time?
Then, in the information age/globalization decade of the 1990s, Earth Day returned with lots of attention — celebrations featured music and a vegetarian potluck; speakers including Hazel Wolf, Joe Meeker, Joel Kuperberg and Rayna Holtz; craft booths; and a fundraiser for the Land Trust’s Whispering Firs Bog. Washington Governor Booth Gardner visited Vashon for the 1991 Earth Day celebration, advocating a stewardship approach to Island Life. The Unitarian Fellowship sponsored a program “Lettuce Care for the Earth” and Rayna Holtz presented “Falling in Love Outward.”
The annual “Island Earth Fair,” started in August 1997, at Paradise Ridge Park, to “promote and celebrate a new cultural style that reflects solutions of consciousness and cooperation.” The vision was “to provide education about and engage support for a simpler, more sustainable lifestyle.” The distinct-yet-related “Islewilde” festival, in late July, focused on arts workshops leading up to a community show. This festival began on Vashon in 1991.
One Earth event in 1997 brought Elizabeth Titus Putnam, founder of the Student Conservation Association (SCA), to the island to help clear trails and remove invasive blackberries at island parks. The Community Activator’s grassroots pilot recycling program was organized in the core business area by the Audubon Society and the Chamber of Commerce.
Vashon Parks worked with the SCA to organize EarthWorks volunteer projects to improve nine island parks, with the April 24, 1999 event involving “A morning of work. An afternoon of fun. A lasting legacy you can be proud of.”
The new millennium continued with increased Islander attention to Earth Day celebrations and myriad talks, activities, music, film festivals, and art. Vashon celebrated the 30th Earth Day in 2000 a week later than the rest of the world, and a Beachcomber editorial reminded us that “On Vashon, every day is Earth Day.” Island Earth Fair continued the task of “bringing greater awareness of these issues to a public forum and to celebrate and honor this planet, our home.” There were EarthFair booths and an Earth Alter Blessing at Village Green, and music at Ober Park.
In 2007, Island EarthFair took a one-year hiatus due to a lack of volunteers, and in 2008 an Earth Day Festival was enthusiastically held on the island, with Janie Starr describing the many ways islanders could engage with the earth, including a day of Earth Action. Since then, island Earth Day celebrations have varied in size, with the last Earth Day fair in 2018 at the Vashon High School. The existence of more than 30 island environmental organizations confirms that community environmental activism continues unabated with an amazing and abundant positive impact on our island. Stay tuned for the new Vashon Environmental Newsletter for more information. It seems the “Every Day is Earth Day” (EDED) tenet is truly growing in islanders’ hearts and minds. Will you join me in practicing EDED?
Steve Bergman is an island geologist, Zero Waste Vashon and Vashon Makerspace board member and Whole Vashon Project advisor.