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Earth Day: Glory and guilt
by Nathan Orme
Apr 18, 2009 | 592 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Every year when Earth Day rolls around, my brain comes up with a combination of feelings consisting of a mix of awe and guilt. Every time I visit Lake Tahoe or the Pacific Ocean or the redwoods of Northern California, I revel in the glory of what our planet naturally produces.

Then there are the moments that make me truly depressed. A few weeks ago, I received in the mail a 10-page booklet from a law firm in Las Vegas bragging about the work it had done over the past year. As I ran my fingers along the thick paper on which it was printed, I pondered how many of Earth’s beautiful trees went into making this mailer that I was about to toss into the trash can.

For the entire decade of the 1980s, I lived in Eureka, Calif. amid the towering trees and perennial green produced by the cool, damp environment. Every fall, the redwoods that surrounded our house would drop a thick blanket of leaves onto the sidewalks and streets. In elementary school, my friends and I would gather up these leaves to make forts that would provide us cover in our games of “guns.” We’d ride our bikes through the hilly trails of a local park thick with redwoods or play on a beach where not another person could be seen anywhere. In the summer, my family would escape from the cold of the coast by driving a few hours inland, where the temperature rose by 25 degrees and we could swim in the Eel River, again with nary another person around and tall trees for shade after a dip in the crisp water.

In the year or so before my family moved away from the area, I was a restless 13-year-old who longed for the excitement of a more populous area and I made sure to let my parents know how I felt. The natural wonders of this small town didn’t matter to me at that age. Trees and clean air and wild animals were not exciting. Endless miles of concrete and identical strip malls seemed like a much better choice to my young spirit. In 1989, I got my wish when my dad’s work transferred him to Southern California.

My high school, college and young adult years were spent in this environment. Sure, there were many moments of excitement and opportunities that can only be had in a big city and I made the most of them. I received a great education, got a great start to my career and made some money in the real estate bubble — all of which set my feet on a path that should carry me very well through life. But for all the great things that Southern California did for me, there was always something magical about getting in the car and leaving behind the millions of people and miles of development and heading back to the natural world. A taste of it could be had at the beaches or mountains that surround the Los Angeles basin, but it wasn’t the same as truly leaving it far behind. In 2004, 15 years after leaving, I returned to Eureka and realized I must have been crazy to ever want to leave. Sure, it’s small with very few economic opportunities, but just looking at it through adult eyes made me see what I somehow missed as a youngster. Those same sights and smells that made me yawn as a pre-teen I eagerly drank in, knowing that some day I would find a way to live in a place like that or at least live close enough that I could visit as often as possible.

In 2007, when the opportunity arose to live in Reno, it was the start of my return north. I knew I was on the right track after driving through the desert south of Yosemite along U.S. 395 and coming up into the trees and seeing the east side of the mountains that create the national park. After almost two years of being able to visit nature’s playgrounds just a short trip from my home in Reno, I believe I may have found the perfect place from which to make a good living while being able to make every day a little Earth Day.

Unfortunately, I can’t get away from occasional reminders of the things we all do to waste resources or put blemishes this this lovely planet we call home. There is the aforementioned brochure from the law firm, which bothered me not only for its extravagance but also because if someone had actually researched the Sparks Tribune’s content they’d figure out that I’d have no interest. This law firm is not the only culprit; at this moment I am looking at a stack of faxes and other press releases piled on my desk. They will all eventually land in the recycle bin and I’d like to think the materials will all be reused, but the initial waste still makes me sad. Despite the fact that my profession was built on creating a product that relies on paper that one day provides potentially vital information and the next day is thrown away, it is my honest hope that one day the newspaper business finds a way to go completely electronic. There are environmental issues associated with electricity, but at least it’s a step.

On my way to work today, I stopped at 7-Eleven for some coffee. It was bad enough that I forgot my commuter mug and had to use a disposable cup, but then I noticed that the convenience store has a clearance section. Is there anyone who will actually buy the headache medicine, old Easter candy, condom two pack or miscellaneous wine that lines the shelves of a 7-Eleven discount section? Chances are it will all end up in a landfill. It pains me to think about it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am planning a camping trip for Memorial Day weekend, but first I need to throw away my coffee cup.

Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at
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