Written by: Susan Harmon, Director of Safe Place National Operations for National Safe Place Network
I’m an environmentalist, a lover of nature and someone that wants to see our planet beautiful and appropriately protected. I’m on my patio in an older neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky as I write these words, keenly aware of nature around me. The senses of touch, sight, hearing and smell are stirred as I sit, think, and write.
The sun shines brightly and I feel the warmth of its rays. Scattered clouds float by and I’m suddenly cooled in their shadows and reminded of the great energy available through the sun. Solar power is becoming more common and affordable for individuals and should be a consideration of property owners when appropriate. On a recent vacation to the Caribbean I noticed how many homes and businesses had solar panels on their roofs, and a solar farm in a large open area with rows of solar panels undoubtedly provide power for the town. This is important there and in other places where fuel and resources have to be brought in to provide utilities. Maybe that’s something to work toward in your home and community, but if not, there are some simple things we can do to harness the sun’s power.
So what can an average person do to harness the sun’s energy? Have you ever made sun tea? If you like iced tea you can fill a clear, glass jar with water and tea bags and place it in the sun until the water is warm and the tea brews to whatever strength you like. In a short amount of time you can enjoy a glass of iced tea. And yes, you do need a freezer to make the ice – unless you have a natural source.
On clear days in the winter you can also harness the sun’s warmth by opening the blinds or curtains in sunny windows to let the rays shine through, enjoy the bright light and warm your space. In the summer, reverse that and close curtains and blinds to keep the warmth out, cool your space and reduce the energy used in air conditioning.
If you have a home with a yard and space for planting, consider planting shade trees to block the summer sun. Deciduous trees (those that loose leaves in the winter) are helpful because they let the sun in during the winter when you want the sun’s energy to warm your home. There is great value in having trees. They provide a cooling effect not only for your home but in mass they help overall heating in the environment. This is especially true in urban areas with large amounts of paving and hard surfaces that heat up in the daytime and hold that warmth at night. (You may have heard of “heat islands”.) Undoubtedly you’ve experienced the noticeable temperature difference while driving on a summer night in a city and then passing into the country or a part of town such as a park.
As I sit, other senses are stimulated – the sense of hearing and smell. The wind is blowing through the neighbors’ trees. One is very large and the leaves have not yet come out, but you can clearly see them as they bud. The wind starts subtly and builds to a loud, rushing sound and soon quiets again to nothing. This wind cools my skin as I sit in the sun. As clouds pass I suddenly get chilly – oh the joy of spring time. My sense of hearing is also thrilled as I listen to the birds that have been awakened by spring and are singing to attract their mates. Soon nests will be filled with eggs and baby birds will hatch. I can only identify some of the birds by their song but they’re all beautiful to hear after the silence of winter.
I also distinctly recognize the smell of freshly cut grass and the faint fragrance of plant blossoms and trees nearby. All of these smells bring happiness, relaxation and memories of times gone by.
Finally, the most obvious sense that I experience is that of sight. I’m surrounded by color – the bright green grass, new foliage on shrubbery and tiny leaves beginning to come out on the trees. Pansies in pots on the patio display vivid yellow, blue, purple, orange and rust. Some of the blooms are two-toned with light and dark in a pattern that reminds me of a monkey’s face – bringing a smile to my face. Looking across my yard I see white dogwood blossoms, bright purple azaleas and a red bud tree – all sights familiar to me since childhood. There are pink tulips, red and yellow columbine, yellow and white daffodils – so much color. I look up and marvel at the blue sky and white puffy clouds floating by.
There in so much to take in – sound, smell, touch, and sight – all wonderful on a spring day. How does this connect to being an environmentalist? How can one experience all the beauty and not want to protect it? That is the connection. So in conclusion, here are a few things you can do to protect and preserve the beauty around you:
- Plant flowers, bushes, trees – whatever is appropriate for your space. It can even be a small pot of herbs, vegetables, flowers or a maple tree that will grow to shade your house. Do some research to find the appropriate plants.
- Put out a bird feeder or bird bath and keep it filled and cleaned to satisfy our feathered friends.
- If you have space, create a place to sit to take it all in, think, contemplate, and talk with a neighbor or loved one. It is amazing when you can admire nature and unplug from the unnatural.
Now, I think I’ll just sit here and take all this in just a little longer before I have to take on the tasks of the day. Happy Earth Day. Enjoy!