Nature-writer Mary Leister of Sykesville says, "Recycling is not a dirty word."
Indeed, she believes conserving natural resources is acritical issue if our planet is to survive. At Piney Run Nature Center on Earth Day, Leister shared with her audience the story of the moment she realized she was her planet's keeper.
Leister recounted how, as she drove along the Payette River in Idaho one night in 1962, she identified from the myriad stars above thebright planets of Venus and Mars. In that instant, she also became aware of the fact that Earth, too, hung in space, that it moved in mysterious orbits.
"Here we are, hanging out there loose, traveling at tremendous speeds in all directions. It was frightening!" she exclaimed.
With that came another revelation: Earth is actually a terrarium, a closed system in which everything must be balanced.
"I often hear the argument that our supply of resources is unlimited," she said. "For instance, people will argue that the holes in the ozone layer may always have been there and we are only recently aware of their existence. I've listened to miners and oil men argue that we'll never run out of oil or coal or copper. But the truth is that our planetis being gradually plundered."
During World War II, Leister said,Americans began conserve. However, there was no mechanism in place to make use of recycled materials, and people felt their efforts were wasted.
Even today, with all the emphasis placed on ecological concerns, she feels people become defensive and angry when asked to conserve resources by recycling.
"We try to shirk. We like everything to be made easy," she said. "We expect South American countries to stop destroying rain forests, but we are careless about destroying the habitat of our birds."
She is particularly concerned that more pollutants run into area rivers and the Chesapeake Bay from lawns and developments than from all the agriculture along the bay's shores. Water is another expendable resource that is consumed unnecessarily in watering lawns and shrubbery.
"Only new lawns need watering," she said.
She also points to the destruction caused by chemical fertilizers and poisonous sprays.
"How many earthworms did you kill when you treated your lawn with chemicals?" she asked. "An acre of fertile ground has 50,000 earthworms. According to Charles Darwin, in 20 years those will deposit three inches of new topsoil on your lawn."
Ants, too, help to aerate the soil and carry nutrients into the earth, she said. In addition, many small animals and insects depend upon theants as part of their diet.
She noted that the war in the PersianGulf will have profound and long-lasting ecological effects on the fragile desert environment.
"Everything we do here on Earth has itsrepercussions," she said. "You toss a stone into a pond and the ripples strike the banks and continue on into the earth."
As a result of her concern, Leister has authored five nature books, two of them children's fiction, two adult non-fiction and one reference book, "Flying Fur, Fin and Scale." The latter is the only book in the world that covers the life histories of flying creatures other than birds.
"Do you know there is a very poisonous snake in southeast Asia that can project itself up to 150 feet through the air?" she asked.
Two of Leister's books, "Seasons on Heron Pond" and "Wee Green Witch" areavailable at the Nature Center. A contributing editor to "Birdwatcher's Digest," she recently shared the writing of "North American Birds" for Reader's Digest General Books.
In addition to her books, articles and columns, many of which have appeared in the Baltimore Sun, she also teaches poetry and story writing to young students through the Maryland Arts Council.