Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series of guest op-eds on promoting environmental stewardship with an appreciation for our environment and the well-being of future generations. The series is coordinated by ACES, the Alliance of Climate and Environmental Stewards.
Joni Mitchell’s song “Big Yellow Taxi,” released during the turmoil of the first Earth Day, ranks among the best anthems of the environmental movement of the 1970s.
With lyrics such as “They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum” and “They paved heaven and built a parking lot”, he chastised what humans were doing to nature for the sake of of what was popularly considered to be progress.
Federal funds for highways seem to offer no end in sight to our impulse to bulldoze more, as highways are expanded in a record-breaking habit to pave nature. Indeed, it can sometimes seem that all we can do in the face of this unstoppable wave of global urbanization is to sing the blues.
But nature also sings its songs. The song of whales echoes across vast volumes of ocean waters. Bees sing their vibes and dance to share their directions to find flowers. These songs and the rhythms of the annual migrations of birds and herds across the continents show how closely nature is linked to music. Music serves as a means of communication to celebrate, invoke or accompany aspects of the cycle of life.
In Native American culture, music is closely linked and even intertwined with nature. It is an integral part of spiritual, social, moral and cultural events. His most traditional instruments are voices, drums and flutes; and all sounds, melodies and songs created have a specific purpose. Traditionally, their music was brought to life through inspiration, participation and imitation.
“Songs come from creation itself” and “Songs come from the earth. We are just vessels through which it can flow and come out and give joy and culture, and show us traditions,” explained Whirling Cloud Woman of the Ute peoples.
Humanity as a whole is now writing different songs about the Earth and its climate challenges, songs in which citizens and government officials around the world play new scores together. And here in Greater Newburyport, widened rail tracks, better walkability, public edible plantings and pollinator meadows ring true in every neighborhood.
Along the Merrimack River, the sound that comes from birdsong, running water and children’s laughter allows us to forget our worries for a while and reflect on what is good in life, including understood being lucky enough to have nature so close. Just like in John Denver’s “Annie’s Song”, with lines like “you fill my senses like a night in a forest, like the mountains in the spring like a walk in the rain”, we are so lucky to live where we live.
Yet there is bad news and we have much to do to heal the ills of the Earth, and we all worry about it.
But rest assured, we can work on it together. Ecological science helps urban planners think more creatively about designing with nature in mind. And like improvisation in jazz, sometimes the most beautiful music comes from the moment and in collaboration with the other members of the group. Here in Greater Newburyport, ACES has formed a ‘cluster’ of environmental and climate allies who continue to practice together week after week in the hope that music deeply rooted in the rhythms of the natural world can be harmoniously channeled into meaningful stewardship actions.
Whatever your instrument – your voice, your pen or your checkbook – join the band and ACES this Earth Month and sing your own song for nature. And, save the date Friday, April 22, from 1-4 p.m., for an Earth Day celebration for climate justice hosted by the First Religious Society Unitarian Universalist, a CAGS ally on the waterfront. We hope to see you there!
This column was coordinated by ACES Youth member Caleb Bradshaw. To share comments or questions, email ACESNewburyport@gmail.com. To learn more about ACES, visit www.aces.alliance.org.