Happy Earth Day!

I recently took a trip to Mexico for a little break from the rain. I had never been to Mexico before, but the part that I was in was in Baja, on the Pacific side. I made an effort to go out of my way, and my comfort zone and chat with locals, ask them about art, and the environment.

Environmentalism isn’t just an idea that belongs to one country, color of skin, or socioeconomic class. The desire to protect what belongs to us all exists cross culturally. And the possibility to be affected by lack of protections exists cross culturally as well, although, sadly, this burden does rest more squarely on people in lower socioeconomic classes. I was visiting a country which was largely poorer than my own, and I wanted to hear their thoughts and opinions on sustainability, at least as far as our language barrier would allow.

Baja was severely ravaged last summer by a very large hurricane. Damage on that scope hadn’t been felt in that area for a very long time, and many people were willing to talk to me about their experiences during and after the hurricane. The cities were still repairing, and much of the basic infrastructure hadn’t gotten back on it’s feet. One man in a coffee shop told me, Odile (the Hurricane) was bad, but that wasn’t all. Baja was a desert, but they also had a monsoon season. However as the years went by, the monsoons came less and less, and it seemed like there was never enough water, even for people who had grown up there and were used to the climate. He said, “The hurricane was hard, but the weather always is hard now. Soon people won’t come to visit anymore and then, there will be no jobs.”
plastic flowerI met a woman who had a beautiful purse which looked like fish scales. I asked her in broken Spanish if I could look at it closer, and saw that that it was made from tabs from soda cans. I asked her where she got it, and she said her friend made them to sell to people. She got the bag because she would walk up and down the beach gathering trash for her friend, which her friend cleaned and turned into beautiful art, bags, and hats to sell. She showed me some photos on her cell phone. They were beautiful.

Cleaning up trash around the city, and in the hurricane rubble was something I saw very frequently. People would sit in the shade, chatting, and weaving plastic bags into purses. I talked with one woman making plastic bags into something, and she explained it was kind of a joke. She held up the plastic bag, “You know what is this?” “A plastic bag?” I guessed. She shook her head, and said “No, is Flower of Mexico. Grows everywhere, see.”, and pointed to a tree, where plastic bags fluttered in the branches. Then she showed me what she was making. Plastic bags turned into decorative flowers. Wreaths, corsages, in vases. I laughed and she smiled.

In the part of Baja I was in, there were whales and sea turtles. Many times, people on the street would come up to me on the street to show me their photos and videos on their own encounters with the whales, and then tell me, “Whales are special.” I showed them a tattoo I have of a whale, and frequently this led to more conversation. Whales and turtles, and their protection as well as the protection of the reefs were very important to people. I met a guy who worked as a fisherman, and he burned a protection candle. I asked if it was for him, and he said no, for the tortugas, so he wouldn’t accidentally get them with his net. A woman told me about pre-Columbian petroglyphs outside of town, in the mountains that showed humans and whales together. She said, “We always know, whales special.” Whale & Turtle

Even the large resorts, not known for their conservation, participated in that culture. I was given a tour by an engineer of a resort being built, and he showed me the cisterns to hold rainwater and the desalinator to turn seawater to freshwater. They had solar panels. He talked about how despite the fact that those things were not at all a selling point or even a thought for rich tourists, it was crucial to have them. The company couldn’t use up the entire water table of the local area, and had to think ahead because climate change was coming.

It seems like what we need is something similar. A culture that values our planet, and the animals and planets, and ecosystems in it. That doesn’t waste, whether that is in designing a building, or when we’re thinking of a gift to give. In the things we create, the first resource we should consider is what we once considered waste, things that no longer have purpose, but may have new purpose. We need to get rid of the idea of planned obsolescence, and the fashions that require constant consumption. We create fashion, and fashion doesn’t have to mean that.

It was an amazing trip, and I’m glad I was able to take away so much. This next week is Earth Day. I hope you are all able to have some time to reflect on the planet, your practices in your life, and the people you’re on it with! Celebrations are great, and if you’re trying to find some activities to do on Earth Day I posted a new “There is No Away” sewing project to Pinterest. There are also the coloring book pages! Or, just get out there on a hike, or plant some seeds!

Happy Earth Day!

Ariel Shultz

artist, educator, environmentalist, sailor