Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day Optimism

Make everyday Earth Day

April 22, 2013

Sometimes good things happen simultaneously. 

During the same week that U-pick blueberry farmers in Central Florida welcomed customers to their blueberry fields, Ralph and I welcomed a newly hatched sandhill crane to our property. 

The fruit, picked fresh from Lake Catherine Blueberries off SR 19 in Groveland was, as usual, sweet and delicious.  The fluffy baby crane following behind its long-legged parents was, as anticipated, undeniably adorable. 

I’d be hard-pressed to find a more satisfying way to celebrate Earth Day than to focus in on the flora and fauna of our immediate surroundings. 

A Bit of History
Earth Day began in 1970 as a way to raise awareness of environmental issues.  Distressed by damage caused by the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin initiated a national teach-in day as a way to infuse the public with a passion for protecting precious resources like air and water from pollution. 

Nelson’s idealistic campaign may have started small but it didn’t stay that way long. 

By 1990, Earth Day had become a global phenomenon that involved 141 countries and 200 million people.  Today, 43 years after its inception, over a billion people in 193 countries are celebrating the largest secular holiday in the world by doing what they can to improve the quality of the world’s precious resources.  People pick up trash, plant trees and clean waterways.  Some help educate others by sharing their love for planet Earth with anyone willing to listen and learn.

Although I prefer to think of Earth Day as a year-round celebration instead of a one-day holiday, I’m focusing today on some of the wildlife and plant life that make my humble niche of Planet Earth so special.
That brings me to blueberries.  And sandhill cranes.

In Central Florida, blueberries are available to the public from mid-April to July.  When we first moved to south Lake County in 1992, there was only one U-pick blueberry farm within a 10-mile radius of our home - Mark’s U-Pick Blueberries at 18900 County Road 561 in Clermont. 

Back then, our four children were little, our youngest just a baby.  But that didn’t stop us from taking advantage of fresh fruit for the picking.  Whenever Mark’s was open, our family was there, gathering plump berries until our fingers (and mouths) were stained blue.  It was a wonderful way to raise kids – outside in the open air, picking fresh fruit alongside parents, siblings and friends.  When we came home, we made blueberry pies, muffins and pancakes but mostly we ate quantities of blueberries by the bowlful.

Twenty-one years later, instead of disappearing like so many other agricultural operations, blueberry farms in Central Florida have multiplied.  Within a 10-mile radius of our south Lake County home, there are now five U-pick blueberry businesses as well as at least one other that grows fruit exclusively for the commercial market.

Picking blueberries is a great fun for the whole family

Ripe berries by the handful...soon to be eaten by the bowlful

We still eat blueberries by the bowlful and I’m glad to say we are now sharing our love of nature’s bounty with another generation as we introduce our grandchildren to locally grown fruit. 

However, we’re not the only beings infusing a new generation with an appreciation for nature’s bounty. 

Baby Cranes
A month ago, a pair of sandhill cranes built a nest on a tiny island in our lake.  Since then, we’ve eagerly anticipated the arrival of baby cranes.  On April 12, one of the two eggs hatched.  While the adult crane continued to sit on the second egg for another day, it failed to open.  Rather than pursuing a futile effort, the birds abandoned the second egg and proceeded to focus their attention on their single offspring.

Nesting crane

Day-by-day, Ralph and I watched as the baby crane followed its parents on increasingly expanded forays away from its island home.  As we sat at home popping fresh-picked blueberries into our mouths, the sandhill cranes explored their surroundings by poking at bugs, seeds and aquatic tidbits.

2-day-old crane with parents

An Optimistic Outlook
On this 43rd annual Earth Day, I find it encouraging that segments of the agricultural industry in Central Florida are still alive and thriving.  Equally reassuring is the knowledge that wildlife populations like sandhill cranes continue to secure places to raise young and survive.  While major environmental problems unfortunately exist – climate change threatens, litter proliferates, air and waterways remain polluted – I prefer to focus on the positive. 

Picking locally grown blueberries and watching a baby crane discover the world are uplifting activities.  They give me hope and enable me to celebrate Earth Day with a smile on my face and optimism in my heart. 

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