When I was a little boy, terrified by a diet of Captain Planet and environmentalist celebrities, I “did my part” to save the planet by planting a tree. I walked alone at night, away from my house to find a suitable spot (there wasn’t enough room in my back yard), sweat my butt off digging a hole, and got eaten alive by mosquitoes before I was through. But when I was finished, I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment looking down at that tiny sapling less than half my height; I felt responsible and grown-up. In fact, I felt MORE responsible than the grown-ups, who to my child’s mind, were doing less than I was to protect our environment.
I quickly fell in love with that tree. Far too young to drive, I used to make the walk out to where I had planted it to give it water. I would stand near it and deliberately breathe on it because I knew it would benefit from the carbon dioxide in my breath while it made oxygen for me (I was a bit of a nerd). In what must have been an entertaining bit of comedy for anyone who saw me, I would even hug the tree and have one-sided conversations with it. To me, it was more than a plant. It was the embodiment of the fact that I had answered the call, that I had done my part, and it offered the comforting reassurance that if everyone would do so small a thing as to plant a single tree, maybe we would have a shot at helping the world. In a way, it even made me feel more in touch with the Earth, and as a child I guess I even felt a bit like the planet itself loved me for what I had done, that my truest “mother” was grateful to me for doing what little I could to help her in the face of my entire species hurting her so badly.
The years rolled by, and by the time I was in my mid to late teens and had moved to another neighborhood with my family, the tree was over three times my height. Obviously, it became a great deal more difficult to visit it once I left, but I never forgot it. It remained so much on my mind, in fact, that after Hurricane Wilma hit in 2005 (I live in Miami), I insisted on making the drive to see it and in order to ensure that it was okay. What I saw was one of the most traumatic sights of my life: My tree was laid on its side in the grass, its once proud branches snapped like twigs under a hiker’s careless boots. The hurricane had literally ripped it from the Earth.
I was just about grown up by then, but I cried like the little boy who planted that tree. Bawling, I crouched beside it and held it like a dying pet, my body getting sticky with sap as if the tree were bleeding on me. I had lost something dear to me, but I think the most painful and senseless part of it was that I couldn’t understand why. This tree had been a gift, from me to my “mother”, my sincerest and most genuine effort to heal the wounds my people had inflicted and were inflicting upon her. Why would her storm do this? Did she not love me? Was she not grateful for what I had tried to do for her? Why would she repay my kindness by ripping my gift, which was precious to me in its own right, out of her own flesh and casting it aside?
I learned everything I needed to know about “environmental awareness” and “protecting the Earth” that day. Because I learned that my “mother’ does not love me at all, nor does she care about my efforts to help her. This planet holds nothing but ice-cold indifference for each and every one of us. Why should I, then, harbor warmth for it? Let it fend for itself if this is how it loves us.
I have no more concern for Earth, than Earth has shown for me.