Human connection requires two parties to willingly step into relationship with one another. Nature, however, is always waiting with open arms. As we consider how we might better walk alongside each other as humans, we must spend time in nature to refocus and reframe how we live. Today, as a community, we stepped into nature’s embrace by celebrating Earth Day 2022.
This year’s celebration of Earth Day brought Proctor alum and current parent, JR White Hat ‘00 to campus for an all-school assembly before we broke into faculty-led workshops in the woodlands and throughout the local area. JR’s message implored our students to use their voice for good and to seek and appreciate the interrelatedness of all species on Earth. Mitakuye Oyasin in Lakota translates to “we are all related”, and it is through this lens of interconnectedness that we must make decisions in our own lives.
Proctor's dedication to environmental stewardship began long before the school joined the progressive environmental movement and the inaugural celebration of Earth Day in 1970. Faculty member Roland Burbank started a Cabin Club and Outing Club in the 1930s as he simultaneously pursued and shared his passion for the outdoors. Students planted and harvested victory gardens during World War 2, and then during the 1950s and 1960s student-led improvement squads built trail systems, cleared ski trails, and maintained the school grounds. The original trails first cut by students more than 75 years ago have been extended and built out significantly in recent years. Today, groups spread out throughout the woodlands to maintain those trails.
The 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s saw a deep commitment to environmental stewardship on campus and through Proctor’s educational programming with the evolution of Wilderness Orientation, Mountain Classroom, forestry and wildlife science classes, and the creation of Proctor Environmental Action as a student-led group on campus. The past two decades have seen increased commitment to environmental stewardship as an institution with the construction of biomass heating for the majority of campus, geothermal wells heating and cooling two main buildings, and the installation of solar arrays on more than a dozen buildings around campus. The adoption of an Environmental Mission Statement in 2008, written by PEA, encourages us to filter all decisions through this lens of sustainability and interconnectedness that JR discussed during his keynote.
In this complex, confusing, weighty world, our willingness to have confidence in using our voice for good sometimes requires us to step away from the chaos and into the peace only the natural world can provide. The poet and environmental activist Wendell Berry’s poem The Peace of the Wild Things encourages us to do just that:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
More than anything, deep down we yearn for the freedom of which Berry writes, a freedom not just from the pain of the world, but the freedom to have the confidence to use our voice to positively impact the lives of others. Today, we took an intentional step toward this freedom through spending time in connection with each other and Mother Earth. Thank you to Environmental Coordinator Alan McIntyre and his organizational team of Lindsay Brown ‘01 and Melanie Maness for making today happen.