Doing green

Let’s get one thing straight. I’ve never been much of a fan of zoos. Too depressing, sort of like visiting innocent prisoners in a maximum security jail. And, of course, there’s the smell. Sort of a cross between gerbil cage and dead fish.

But, sometimes it’s necessary to put the bleeding heart and sensitive olfactory aside in favor of an educational opportunity. Which is why, on a recent outing to a nearby metropolis, I found myself begrudgingly giving in to a trip to the local animal penitentiary.

And, dare I say, it actually turned out to be a valuable experience – and I’m not just talking about the entrance fee. OK, so it was still smelly and depressing – but eye-opening nonetheless.

Apparently, zoos have changed since the exploit-and-pillage circus sideshows I remember as a kid (coin-operated basketball playing waterfowl come to mind, but that’s a column for another day. Or at least a topic for my next therapy session.) See, in those days, animals were on parade, an unlimited resource to be extracted for our temporary enjoyment. A trip through the hot, cramped confines of the Ape House capped off with a ride on the tea cups followed by some cotton candy.

Of course, today all that has changed. We now know that animals need room to roam, fresh air and humane living conditions. And we also know that standing too close to the polar bear exhibit could earn you a nasty flesh wound.

Or do we?

Obvious parallels to the Shamu Sea World debacle aside, I couldn’t help but notice that practically every animal we saw that day was either endangered or threatened. Mainstays of childhood lore like lions, tigers, zebras, koalas, elephants and pandas are all tragically at risk of being snuffed out permanently. In our lifetimes, we could see them go from merely exotic to extinct; relegated to the history pages next to dodo birds and passenger pigeons.

Maybe it’s just the midlife fatalism that I’ve been prone to lately, but I couldn’t help but be alarmed. I mean, when captivity is the only way of preserving “wild” animals, there is something seriously wrong with the picture. Save the whale, sure. But what about the ocelot, otter and orangutan?

Anyway, the point of this is not to wallow in the depths of despair but to serve as a fitting segue into this week’s big event. No not 4/20 – although I understand that was also widely observed locally. In case you didn’t know, today is Earth Day. The 40th to be exact, which means it’s been around a long time and is not just another fly-by-night Hallmark-contrived excuse to buy cards and flowers. (Although the latter are always appreciated.)

Rather, it’s an excuse to stop and smell the flowers, appreciate the flowers and maybe even plant a few. And it’s about giving back to the Earth, which we just so happen to share with other, less fortunate species.

OK, so this may sound a little too warm and fuzzy, if not downright hairy and crunchy. But giving back to the Earth no longer has to mean alienating oneself from mainstream society (although limiting showers is one of the easy Earth Day observance ideas proposed.)

No, just like they say 40 is the new 30, they (in these very pages, I believe), also say green is the new black. That’s right, instead of a frumpy frog, Earth Day has grown into transformed into a svelte sophisticate. In fact, so many people are , that it’s become a bit of a hipster sport. Sure, showering has been frowned upon in Durango for quite some time, but consider that, in our tiny town alone, change is afoot. Vintage 10-speeds have made a miraculous resurgence and reusable shopping bags have become the newest must-have accessory. No self-respecting beverage junkie would be caught dead without his or her travel mug, and one can’t help but wonder, given other local beverage consumption rates, if travel beer mugs are far behind (in which case, you heard it here first.) Hanging laundry is a common sight, even in winter, and I like to think the abundance of old, beat-up cars lining the streets is only because everyone would rather invest and participate in riding their bikes. The recycling center is always hopping, back yard gardens are commonplace and solar panels are popping up like dandelions (which, incidentally, are also being spared the wrath of a chemical death.)

Of course, there is the ironic reality that even as people are doing more than ever, more than ever needs to be done. Myself included. In addition to occasionally (and unintentionally) riding my bike on muddy singletrack, I am guilty of a fondness for sports that require year-round refrigeration and mechanized uphill transport. I also confess to a nasty mail-order habit and weakness for Chilean grapes (in all their forms). And yes, I am aware that this paper is printed on dead trees (albeit a high percentage of post-consumer.)

In other words, now is not the time to sit back with your sustainably-harvested coffee, kick up your recycled tire tread Birkenstocks and admire your petite carbon footprint.

Because, switching out those light bulbs and fixing that leaky faucet are just a few steps in the right direction. But there are miles to go on this wide, wonderful and still wild Earth.

– Missy Votel



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows