Every April, I am forced to wonder how “green” I am. As a committee member for Stony Brook University’s weeklong environmentally friendly event called Earthstock, I am supposed to be a shining example of all things green.
But for me, it’s a little like Lent, a short break from my usually not-so-eco-conscious habits. I thought I “got religion” when I saw Hugh Downs emcee the first Earth Day back in 1970, but I only practice sporadically, and it weighs heavily on my conscience.
I do have clean, green intentions! I even wrote inflammatory eco-friendly poetry in college. My best piece, titled “Every Day is Earth Day to A Clam,” was promptly rejected by the campus literary magazine. I guess I didn’t do much but give lip service to saving the planet.
When I enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1975, I was ordered to deep-six (dump) our ship’s garbage into Davy Jones’ Locker (the beautiful Mediterranean Sea). Sometimes I still wake up in a cold sweat over this, with visions of Poseidon poking me with a trident for littering his pelagic paradise.
It wasn’t until 1984, when I left the Seventh Fleet behind and moved to the still-somewhat-pristine North Fork of Long Island, that I began to realize there were things on Earth worth saving besides myself.
Back then, a drive along Route 25A through Calverton’s big open meadows under the red-tailed hawks would remind me of the one big cross-country road trip I took in1972.
Riverhead’s Route 58 corridor had plenty of empty lots in the ‘80s, too. My heart sank every time I saw another “Coming Soon” sign pop up, little-by-little eroding the small-town life I fell in love with when I settled in Jamesport.
Eventually, developers all lined up for a piece of the Riverhead pie, and many of them got their wish. For too brief a time, the Riverhead Town Council took on a green look, crusading against the development rush with two-acre zoning, which became something of a dirty word.
Development couldn’t really be stopped. Victories felt few and far between, but we tree-huggers and NIMBYs remained hopeful. I remember playing a concert with a band to protest the drive-thru window at the Mattituck McDonalds. How quaint that seems now.
I remain proud of Southold for being one of the last great places on the planet. Here, it seems as if it doesn’t matter which political party you represent — if you’re not environmental, you won’t win an election in this town.
But I’m not running for office — I’m just checking to see how I’m doing as an environmentalist.
Aside from the Earthstock committee gig at Stony Brook, and licking envelopes for the North Fork Environmental Council in the ‘90s, my commitment to the environment consists mostly of guilt-tripping grocery cashiers who insist on giving me plastic bags at local stores.
I usually trot out the most depressing spiel I can muster — something like, “this is just going to wind up in the ocean and become part of the Texas-sized mass of plastic that’s choking birds and turtles who mistake it for food and die a long and painful death.”
Let’s face it — I’m talking the environmental talk, but I’m not walking the walk. I didn’t dress up in stapled-together plastic bags and parade in front of town hall to educate the council members like one local hero did in Southampton. In fact, I don’t even own a stapler.
I do refuse to use herbicides! If you pass my house and grumble at the chard and dandelions overtaking my lawn, just be glad I’m not pouring poison into the ground. I’m also proud to have never poured an asphalt driveway, despite having to pull every weed out of the gravel by hand.
I know I could do better, but only time will tell. Maybe it’s time I just put one carbon footprint ahead of the other and try new things to go green. Will you share your advice?
I’m no farmer, and I don’t cook much, so please don’t ask me to start a compost heap. But wait, I just finished eating an apple here at my desk. Maybe I’ll toss it out in the yard and get a pile going after all. Anyone need some soil?