This is a week to remember conservation-minded Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson. He was the principal founder of Earth Day. Nelson reminds us that good ideas can be like those beautiful robin's eggs in the photo above by Pat Johnson, the ornithologist and original Naturalist's Notebook collaborator—they need time to incubate.
Before he died in 2005, Nelson wrote that the idea for Earth Day "evolved over a period of seven years starting in 1962. It had been troubling me that the state of our environment was simply a non-issue in the politics of the country. Finally, in November 1962, an idea occurred to me that was, I thought, a virtual cinch to put the environment into the political limelight once and for all. The idea was to persuade President Kennedy to give visibility to this issue by going on a national conservation tour...The President began his five-day, eleven-state conservation tour in September 1963. For many reasons the tour did not succeed in putting the issue onto the national political agenda. However, it was the germ of the idea that ultimately flowered into Earth Day.
"I continued to speak on environmental issues to a variety of audiences in some twenty-five states. All across the country, evidence of environmental degradation was appearing everywhere, and everyone noticed except the political establishment. The environmental issue simply was not to be found on the nation's political agenda. The people were concerned, but the politicians were not.
"After President Kennedy's tour, I still hoped for some idea that would thrust the environment into the political mainstream. Six years would pass before the idea that became Earth Day occurred to me while on a conservation speaking tour out West in the summer of 1969. At the time, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, called 'teach-ins,' had spread to college campuses all across the nation. Suddenly, the idea occurred to me: Why not organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment?"
Twenty million people took part in events on the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. Within three years the U.S. had set up the Environmental Protection Agency and passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. Those landmark steps, I should point out, received widespread bipartisan support. Democrats and Republicans agreed (when was the last time you read those words?) that the environment and its vanishing species needed protection.
Now, 42 years later, Earth Day has become so mainstream that you can send a Hallmark e-card to celebrate it. A 2011 Pew poll found that 71 percent of Americans agree with the statement, "This country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment." Even though we humans are still degrading the planet at an alarming rate—and even though in the U.S. an anti-environmental movement has arisen with a mission of eliminating the EPA, weakening pollution guidelines and denying the overwhelming scientific evidence of global climate change—a part of me remains hopeful that the idea that Nelson hatched, a beautiful nest egg for our future, will continue to inspire people to care about and care for the planet on which we live.
A Nest of Activity
My own cranial nest is filled with wild-looking idea eggs right now: Naturalist's Notebook eggs (distinctively orange and black, like our logo), Sports Illustrated work eggs (red and white, like the SI.com logo), London Summer Olympic eggs (blue, yellow, black, green and red, like the Olympic rings), Earth Day eggs (green, of course) and so many others that if I bump my head the eggs could crack and end up as one big omelet. But that's part of idea formation too.
Idea eggs are hatching daily as we prepare The Naturalist's Notebook for its fourth season. If you were inside our century-old building in Seal Harbor right now, you would see a space in transformation—new installations being created, furniture and books and specimens and Albert Einstein and giant tigers and unidentified flying objects moving about, scissors, paint brushes, sandpaper, hammers and screwdrivers all working their magic.
I wish I could show you some photos, but that would spoil the surprises in store when we open in June. For now, here are some other images and ideas and birds and eggs to put in your own nest:
The Bird That Sings With Its Wings Remember the video we had a couple of blogs ago about the manakin, the bird that moonwalks like Michael Jackson? The manakin is featured in the latest issue of National Geographic for another of its unique traits: The courtship song it plays with its fast-flitting wings. Watch and listen—it's quite amazing:
The Missing Eiders For each of the last four years we have had fewer and fewer eiders gather on the bay in front of our house during their northward migration. Four years ago we had well over a thousand; this year we had fewer than 200. Is it a sign of climate change? If so, wouldn't the birds simply arrive earlier? Is it evidence of a declining food source here because of the frequent scrapings of the bay floor by urchin and scallop dragging boats? We have only questions, not answers, but we miss the powerful sight of a bay filled with the large and lovely sea ducks, clucking and singing.
The Albino Hummingbird Someone sent us this shot of a rare albino hummingbird seen in a Virginia backyard (via the animal site Daily Squee):
A Star Trek Thought Thanks to Karen in Alaska for sharing on Facebook this photo by George Takei, who played Sulu on Star Trek:
Tracing a New Art Form
How Rube Goldberg Might Water a Plant
Thanks to Notebook correspondent Leanne for passing along this follow-up to the recent Goldberg-esque science video we posted. It's another fun one:
Answer to the Last Puzzler
This was the question: A field biologist is counting animals on a small island. The island has only lizards and birds. The biologist, who has a kooky streak, decides to count just heads and legs. She finds that the lizards and birds on the island have a total of 30 heads and 70 legs. How many birds are there and how many lizards are there? Answer: There are 25 (two-legged) birds and five (four-legged) lizards.
Today's Puzzler Why are most birds' eggs oval rather than round?