Joe Burns

Joe Burns

The official first day of spring is March 21, but in my estimation that date is a month too early. The first real day of spring for me is April 21, which is my youngest brother’s birthday.

I remember my family celebrating Easter Sunday when I was five years old, and then shortly after, my mom going to the hospital and bringing home our new baby brother.  That was my introduction to the birds and the bees.  I remember asking questions and trying to figure out where babies come from. I have always asked a lot of questions

Seven years later on brother Jimmy’s birthday, his friends were helping him learn how to ride his new bike. In the process, he coasted down a steep hill and over a four foot retaining wall. He was banged up, but despite my mother’s fears, he did not have a concussion. That evening after the commotion calmed down, I remember standing on our porch looking at the trees. Almost like a Disney true life adventure movie, the bare tree limbs seemed to sprout soft, transparent leaves as I stood there watching.  Since that day, I always watch expectantly for spring to burst forth on or around April 21.  

I thought a lot about my brother this weekend as I puttered around my yard admiring the trees and flowers and listened to the birds.  Hopefully, most everyone had an opportunity to take advantage of the lovely spring weather to celebrate Easter egg hunts, Easter services and family get-togethers,

This week, two other seasonal events take place as well. Earth day was commemorated on Monday and Arbor Day is celebrated on Friday. 

As most Nebraskans are aware, Arbor Day was first proposed by J. Sterling Morton who advocated the planting of trees. The first Arbor Day celebration took place on April 10, 1872, and became a legal Nebraska Holiday in 1882.  Arbor Day is now celebrated in all 50 states and internationally. Each year, the City of Blair commemorates Arbor Day on the last Friday of April with tree plantings in city parks by Blair elementary students.  

Earth Day is Arbor Day’s much younger sibling. Earth Day  was the brain child of U.S. Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson in 1970.  The motivation for the day was the massive Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969.  The movement resonated with those of my generation who were involved in the civil rights movement, the peace movement and anti-Nixon demonstrations. But the event also captured and focused the attention of the rich and poor, Republicans and Democrats on the need to control air and water pollution and protect wildlife. The first Earth Day resulted in bipartisan legislation that led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species acts.

My recollection of Earth Day in the ‘70s was of school sponsored clubs  and organizations taking part in cleanup and recycle activities. I also remember my favorite swimming accessory was a green and white Ecology flag beach towel.

On a spiritual, political and educational level, the transition in nature from winter to spring is inspiring. Last week, I joined some third-grade classes for a pond study activity at DeSoto Bend.  The students filled plastic tubs with pond water and dipped nets in wetlands to find critters and record what they found. Some students avoided the muddy water while others couldn’t wait to get their feet and boots wet. The students were particularly excited when they collected a basin filled with tadpoles that were beginning to grow legs. The students practiced observation and problem solving skills, and learned about life cycles in nature. Learning opportunities such the outdoor education program reinforces basic science and learning strategies. Hopefully, the program also nurtures an understanding and appreciation of nature as a part of everyday life.

On another topic, I’m preparing for my next travel adventure. The day after Memorial Day I will be heading west to follow the Lewis and Clark Trail along the Missouri River through Montana  and then across the Continental Divide to the Columbia River and Oregon.  Along the way I plan to share my adventure through pictures and a weekly column.  Oregon or bust!

Joe Burns is the photographer for the Washington County Pilot-Tribune and Enterprise.

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