April 2017
Backyard Wilderness Blog
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Earth Day!
Despite mushrooming human population increase and urban expansion both nationally and globally, great strides have been made since the 1970s for protecting the natural world. Improved fuel mileage technology and emission controls on motor vehicles and power plants have reduced atmospheric pollution. Many streams, brooks, rivers and lakes have been cleaned up by stemming the flow of industrial pollutants and lowering phosphates in household cleaners that caused eutrophication. Recycling laws and programs nationwide have slowed the growth and proliferation of solid waste landfills, as well as diminished the rate of our ravenous consumption of raw materials. Municipal and private composting initiatives, combined with the popular trend for household backyard composting, has not only prevented natural, organic materials from filling solid waste dumps, but has also helped fuel an increase in family homestead organic gardening. All of these proactive things have been good for both the earth and people, too, revealing that with wise forethought and careful planning, humans can function effectively as good stewards of the natural world, responsibly controlling and managing activities that pollute and degrade the environment.
Overflowing suds from a laundromat flow directly onto the ground just feet from the Winooski river. Scenes like this were common when this photo was taken in 1976.
This mountain of trash was located at an unlined landfill in Burlington, Vermont about one hundred yards from the Winooski river. In addition to the items shown in the photo, there were also discarded radios, televisions, and other electronic devices that release toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, commonly called PCBs, as they decompose. Just a few weeks after this photo was taken, it was discovered that these and other chemicals had leached into the groundwater and to the nearby river.
Shortly thereafter, flowing along the last mile of the Winooski river through Burlington's Intervale lands, PCBs reached beautiful Lake Champlain for the first time...
Whenever I see crowded developments like this one I am reminded of a verse from the Old Testament that says; "Woe to those who join house to house, who lay field to field, until there is no room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land!" Isaiah 5:8

I can't imagine daily life without wild neighbors close by. Existence would seem so empty.
There is a kind of joyful fulfillment and peace that comes to me when I see a doe and fawn walking together in the woods behind our house, or hear the "wok-wok-wok" of a pileated woodpecker. In addition to dozens of species of songbirds, there are salamanders, toads, frogs, turkeys, chipmunks, red squirrels, porcupines, weasels, and foxes that call our hillside home, and occasionally a martin, fisher, bear, moose, bobcat or lynx passes through. There has even been evidence of the ever elusive mountain lion - three sightings and two sets of tracks!
In the 1950's, when I was a young boy, my parents often left me in the care of my paternal grandmother who lived near the edge of a small town in Vermont. Just behind her house was a half-acre wooded lot that was once the grounds of a prosperous granite shed, but over several decades had become overgrown with wild plants, shrubs and trees. With giant slabs of discarded granite laying randomly about, it was just the kind of place for imaginative exploration by local kids. It was here, amidst the green mosses, lichens, salamanders and garter snakes, that I first developed a love for all things natural.

When the first Earth Day was declared for April 22, 1970, I was overjoyed! Still in high school, I remember hearing our student president proclaim the celebration through my homeroom intercom during morning announcements, and decided in that moment to pursue an Environmental Studies Degree at the University of Vermont.