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Dear editor,

This is a Wausau Earth Day Unity story centered on two vital themes – the love and care of our environment, and the love and care of one another.  Hardly mutually exclusive, both are intimately and tightly woven into one warm blanket.  

On a cool, cloudy Saturday, April 24th, thanks to a grant for fifteen trees from Wausau’s Community Foundation, the Citizen’s Climate Lobby here in Marathon County and NAOMI of Wausau were able to gather a gloriously diverse family of good folks who showed up to plant those trees for Earth Day in one of our local parks.  Thanks also to the support of our Parks Department and to Mayor Katie Rosenberg, Wausau proudly entered its fortieth Tree City year.  

The residents of Wausau and Marathon County, like many folks around the country, struggle to find their way through some tough racism issues.  Facing up to the reality of local prejudice is so emotionally charged for many that the County Diversity Affairs Commission’s Community For All resolution has set a match to some old, dry tinder.  In pursuit of Martin Luther King’s Beloved Community during the afternoon panel discussion La’Tanya Campbell, Alder Ka Lo, Alder William Harris and Mayor Rosenberg hopes for bringing all sides together around a pot luck table emerged.  

All the more reason to take note of our tree planting.  Hmong, African American, Hispanic, First Nation Menominee, Pacific Islander, LBGTQ and European American hands planted 15 trees together.  Call them Earth Day Unity trees.  Resolution or not, The Beloved Community glimmered optimistically that morning, yearning to be born.  It was a wonderfully hopeful moment; only time will tell if Wausau and Marathon County can breathe life into it?

Don’t get me wrong, fifty people planting trees together in honor of Mother Earth  does not heal the accumulated and ongoing wounds of the past 500 years, but it was a tentative baby step and should be recognized and celebrated.  To be sure, the next step, as the afternoon panel discussion made clear, needs to be taken, the journey towards a welcoming, equitable community needs to proceed.  NAOMI promised to help chart the direction of that next step.

Nor does planting fifteen trees heal the the environmental damage that threatens the health, and thereby ours, of this special planet.  Whether it be local neighborhood pollution, mines that threaten to poison the waters we drink, the pesticide assault on insects and the rest of the food chain, the invasion of plastic particles entering our bodies every day or the growing climate crisis, it is hard to imagine a Community for All that ignores the environment we depend on.

Fifteen trees not only symbolize life and the planting of hope for the future, they also draw greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and store it in trunk, roots and branches.    Some will also provide apples and pears to hungry park visitors in the future.  Yes, planting trees is a good thing, but a lot more than that needs to be done to hand our children and grandchildren a livable planet.  

Making the liberating change to electric cars and trucks and charging them and our homes with sunshine and gusty winds will help, but there are many other ways to creatively reduce our and our country’s carbon footprint.  We thank the Citizen’s Climate Lobby for leading the way.  

Whether it be building a close knit, beloved community, or a sustainable environment on planet Earth a new consciousness and a lot of effort will be needed.  Nevertheless a cautious, unified step was taken in Wausau.  Along with the communities already mentioned we thank the following groups for digging in and planting hope.  Citizens Action of North Central Wisconsin, The Greater Wausau Chamber of Commerce, Marathon County Democratic Party, the YWCA, Fridays for Future, Citizen’s for a Clean Wausau, Marathon County Diversity Affairs Commission, NAOMI, Citizen’s Climate Lobby Rib Mountain – Marshfield, the Menominee Nation and, of course, the Wausau and Marathon County Parks Department – especially Andrew Sims.  

Together, we hope to make this a bigger, more inclusive Earth Day celebration next year.  In the meantime there is a lot for all of us to learn about one another and even more work to do together.  We especially want to recognize and reach out our hands to our friends and neighbors who remain hesitant and reluctant to join in.  Check out the Citizen’s Climate Lobby Rib Mountain and NAOMI Facebook pages to learn more about us and, maybe, get involved  Tomorrow is in our hands today.

Dan Barth, Wausau