Fifty Years Plus and Still…

A photo I took at the basin a few weeks ago. Ducks swimming through a shimmering building reflection.

I usually swim on Tuesdays at noon but today, I went for a walk instead, around a midtown feature in my community which is informally referred to as “the basin.” For decades, the basin was previously called the Boneyard creek, a slim rivulet which ran diagonally through town and the university campus. Generally a blight, almost anything could be found in that relatively shallow water. Filthy and bad-smelling, it was described by a local news service like this : “From the early 1900s, the Boneyard was deemed a polluted eyesore; reports of gas pollution and foul odors date back to as far as 1915.In 2004, a master urban area renewal plan which encompassed a sizable section of the creek, was initiated by the city in concert with the university. The basin opened in 2012, a park with several water features that attract waterfowl and which provide habitat for turtles and fish. Native plants line the shore and the slopes to the water, drawing bees, dragonflies and birds. During the times when Michael was too sick to leave town, we’d head over to sit at small tables under the shade of umbrellas, soaking in mini-respites from cancer-treatment life. Sometimes we brought the grandkids. Later, after he died, I still went there with the kids. And I continue go there frequently for strolls and relaxation.

Michael strolling around the basin, 2015
My oldest grandson at the basin, a couple of years ago
Michael’s last time at the basin, about 6 weeks before he died.

On this mild February morning, I put my headphones in my ears and cranked up the music, my best company on these walks. I play Pandora on shuffle so I’m always surprised by the next tune. I think that keeping unpredictability in life is good for the brain. As I strode along I was glad to see that a cleanup effort had taken place since my last visit. At that time I was really disturbed by a buildup of garbage and rubble, not only on the banks beside the basin but in the water itself.

Garbage thrown around at the basin.

I don’t think I’ll ever understand the casual dumping of almost anything into areas of natural beauty. For that matter, I’m still appalled by the litter still so evident in many urban areas. I suppose there will always be some people who simply can’t control the self-absorbed behavior which allows them to drop what is no longer of value to them, wherever and whenever they please. But come on. Ignoring environmental concerns must take a special kind of willful ignorance. How can anyone not care about the pitiful condition of our aching planet? What bubble desensitizes an individual to the knowledge that climate change, along with a lack of respect for the earth, has brought all living things to the edge of a dangerous tipping point? After all, the first Earth Day in the U.S. was way back in April, 1970. You’d think the message would be omnipresent by now.

For the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the National Archives featured this poster by artist Robert Rauschenberg. (National Archives, Records of the U.S. Information Agency)

Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban dwellers and farmers, business and labor leaders. By the end of 1970, the first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of other first of their kind environmental laws, including the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act. Two years later Congress passed the Clean Water Act. A year after that, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act and soon after the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. These laws have protected millions of men, women and children from disease and death and have protected hundreds of species from extinction. (From Earth Day website)

“What About Me” – album by Quicksilver Messenger Service, 1970

The tune “What About Me?,” the title song from the 1970 album by Quicksilver Messenger Service, popped up on my Pandora feed as I walked this morning. Sometimes it’s hard to be optimistic. I thought this coincidence was fitting given my thoughts of the day. The lyrics to this song, written over 50 years ago, could have been written yesterday with relatively few adjustments for time. I admit that I wasn’t thrilled to look back and realize the agonizingly slow pace of people’s attention to our shared living space needs a major adjustment. Here are the song lyrics. Read them and weep.

What About Me – Quicksilver Messenger Service – 1970

You poisoned my sweet water.
You cut down my green trees.
The food you fed my children
Was the cause of their disease.

My world is slowly fallin’ down
And the airs not good to breathe.
And those of us who care enough,
We have to do something…….

Oh… oh What you gonna do about me?
Oh… oh What you gonna do about me?

Your newspapers,
They just put you on.
They never tell you
The whole story.

They just put your
Young ideas down.
I was wonderin’ could this be the end
Of your pride and glory?

Oh… oh What you gonna do about me?
Oh… oh What you gonna do about me?

I work in your factory.
I study in your schools.
I fill your penitentiaries.
And your military too!

And I feel the future trembling,
As the word is passed around.
“If you stand up for what you do believe,
Be prepared to be shot down.”

Oh… oh What you gonna do about me?
Oh… oh What you gonna do about me?

And I feel like a stranger
In the land where I was born
And I live like an outlaw.
An’ I’m always on the run…

An I’m always getting busted
And I got to take a stand….
I believe the revolution
Must be mighty close at hand…

Oh… oh What you gonna do about me?
Oh… oh What you gonna do about me?

I smoke marijuana
But I can’t get behind your wars.
And most of what I do believe
Is against most of your laws

I’m a fugitive from injustice
But I’m goin’ to be free.
Cause your rules and regulations
They don’t do the thing for me

Oh… oh What you gonna do about me?
Oh… oh What you gonna do about me?

And I feel like a stranger
In the land where I was born
And I live just like an outlaw.
An’ I’m always on the run.

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Dino Valenti

What About Me? lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LLC, Carlin America Inc, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Leave a Reply