We were hiking through the fragrant forest, enjoying the huge trees and spectacular views. On this camping trip my oldest brother was at home working at his summer job, but the rest of us were there with our dad for our annual outing. (As a kid, I felt sorry for my mom since she didn’t get to join us, but I eventually came to understand that having all seven of us away for a week was even more of a vacation for her.) I noticed something shiny on the trail and went to investigate. I sensed Dad was looking my way and accustomed to the usual parental directive, “Don’t touch that—it’s dirty!” I was surprised when he instructed me to pick up the empty candy wrapper and put it in my pocket so I could throw it away when we got back to the campground. We all agreed it was terrible that anyone would mess up such a beautiful trail by littering.
It was not a big deal, and we did not replace hikes with trash-collecting crusades. But that left an impression on me. As an adult, when I am hiking somewhere or just walking on the beach and notice a piece of trash, I make a point of picking it up and carrying it out when I can. Talk about the carry-forward effect of a small lesson as a child.
Last summer the nine-year-old daughter of a friend of mine pushed past her nervousness as she walked up to the podium to testify in front of the Santa Barbara City Council for the first time. She loves the ocean and all its creatures and wanted to ask the adults in charge to protect the ocean by adopting the plastic straw and Styrofoam ban. I know she (and her mother) were proud when council members voted to do just that. In contrast, my first experience speaking at a governmental meeting was when I was 25. I was commenting on the scope of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) about to be prepared for a large proposed housing project near where I lived in Goleta. (Thinking back, I am even more impressed with the nine-year-old!) Despite my nerves, I was able to provide useful input thanks to great coaching from others. I assumed the process would result in the obvious conclusion that the proposed project was a terrible idea, and that would be the end of it. While that is pretty much where things eventually ended up, it took another 15 years of technical, political, grassroots and fundraising efforts by a multitude of individuals, community groups and government officials to get there. It was eye-opening for me, but now the ocean bluff-top Ellwood Mesa Open Space is public land.
The otherwise-unknown Baba Dioum gave us this famous quote: “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”
This is true for us all, but it has the most long-reaching effect on children. By taking me on walks through the forest, my dad taught me about natural places and helped me understand it is up to all of us to protect them. That motivated me to work to conserve natural places. The nine-year-old was taught about the ocean, understands it supports the diversity of marine life, and loves it for that. Her courage to act in a situation that scared her was a nearly inevitable outcome.
A much less-known quote comes from old-time San Francisco radio personality Wes Nisker. His catchphrase was, “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.”
That is the challenge for all of us. If you don’t like a proposed building, participate in the public planning process. If you are worried that kids are spending too much time staring at their smartphones and not enough time appreciating nature, take your child or your neighbor’s child for a hike on the Franklin Trail, the Carpinteria Bluffs or the Salt Marsh. If you are concerned that Carpinteria might forget its past, volunteer at the Carpinteria Valley Museum of History. There are options everywhere.
Gotta go – I see a potato chip bag on the beach.