Ah, I remember a gig at U.C. Davis on one of the first Earth Days back in the early 1970s. I was booked to play some folkie stuff that evening in the old Memorial Union Coffee House adjacent to the famous Freeborn Hall near the center of the campus. As most of us who were around in those days will remember, the 1960s carried over into the mid-1970s, and the students at U.C. Davis had already shown their counterculture stripes when they sat on the railroad tracks near campus, blocking trains carrying nuclear warheads.
Yep, I wandered over to The Quad to join the Earth Day mob. Hundreds and hundreds of folks — a few closed-cropped science nerds with their button down collars and pocket protectors (as you might expect at U.C. Davis), but mostly it was long-haired guys in bell-bottomed Levis or button-up-the-front sailor pants, bandanas, blue work shirts and Jesus sandals, and lots of girls in long, billowing skirts and tie-bleached pheasant blouses. Many wore flowers in their hair, and danced in circles to a song only they could hear. The acrid stench of patchouli oil burned my nostrils. OK, there were a few hiking boot mothers in the crowd decked out in their finest flannel, too, but their time hadn’t really arrived yet. Society had to wait a year or so to catch up with them. I guess I was maybe a little more far out than most because I’d moved on from the bandanas and work shirts. I was into handmade, loose fitting, white, embroidered muslin shirts with big sleeves in those days.
They were my favorite — the uniform of my totally ridiculous 20-something, guruwithout- a-beard persona. My sweet Lord, have mercy.
The musical headliner that day was a guy who completely covered the stage with amplifiers, speaker cabinets and rack cases full of gear. One item by one item, he set the whole thing off, and it howled and screamed and belched and moaned for more than an hour as he ran back and forth turning knobs like some crazed, possessed cathodic wizard. I don’t think I was the only one who didn’t understand. Such an electronic racket on
Earth Day? Hmmm.
But the day’s big event was a noon release of balloons — designed to illustrate the path radiation and other harmful things in the atmosphere would travel on waves of air. The colorful balloons rose into the noon sky, and a few minutes later they soared out of sight
over the causeway, headed for Sacramento and beyond.
The environmental movement was still young then, a little more than a decade out from Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” a time not so long after the mighty Sierra Club first praised the nuclear reactor at Diablo Canyon they said would provide virtually free electricity to all the state’s residents, a time before Kesterson and a real public understanding of the damage lead, mercury and other heavy metals and toxins do to our environment and to our bodies. We know better today.
Hey now, I’m not trying to make some big political statement or start some big argument between those on the left or the right, but it seems pretty obvious to me we need to protect our environment. We need clean water. We need clean air. We need to do everything we can to preserve an environment that can sustain the everincreasing number of humans (our children and grandchildren, et al) on this tiny, fragile planet.
Let me just say it — when we foul our planet, we foul our nest. Apparently we’re the only animal dumb enough to do that. But dig this. Unless we take care of this place or figure out a way to join the little green ETs in the stars, it’s gonna be happy extinction, baby. I, for one, don’t want us to go there.