To me, Earth Day is all about crawdads.
You’d think I’d be consumed with things more pointy-headed and technical on Earth Day. I’ve worked for Sierra Club for nigh on ten years now, and my job is mostly about promoting the clean and fighting the dirty. I’m supposed to be consumed with talking up solar and wind energy while doing battle with the bad guys of the coal industry. And I am. For about 364 days a year. But not on Earth Day.
On Earth Day, my thoughts run more toward a towheaded Gravel Ridge boy that spent a whole lotta time scampering around the hills, hollers, and mudholes of Arkansas. My family was big on camping, pretty solidly spending every free moment from May to August in and around a lake. If I let my mind drift back to childhood, my memories feel like a damp, gritty bathing suit, taste like a flipflop, and smell like a mix of woodsmoke and canned Vienna sausages.
On one such camping trip, when I was nine, I was out crawdaddin’ with my friend Mark Brookings somewhere in the middle of BFE. I caught a beaut: long body, black eyes, and those red-tipped claws that we all knew meant trouble. I put him in a Dixie cup full of creek water, and carried him off to show my folks.
Somewhere along the way, Mark got ahead of me or I got distracted, but one way or another I was suddenly lost in the woods. And I don’t mean sorta lost. I mean full-on, hollerin’, listening-to-your-own-echo lost. For the first time, I understood the truly scary side of being, without a doubt, alone.
Not totally alone, though. I had my Dixie cup full of crawdad. And his name was Herman.
Herman and I wandered zig-zaggedly, randomly, aimlessly, and hoped someone would hear my shouts. My initial panic gradually changed to aggravation, then to the sure resignation that, yep, this is where it was all going to end for me. Someday I’d be found, I told Herman, just a little skeleton in swim trunks, still gripping a Dixie cup full of crawdad. With great solemnity, I promised to turn Herman loose in the creek if we made it out alive.
We sat down on the forest floor and, for the first real time in my life, I became aware of the quiet. The woods were silent. More so than church, more so than when the teachers would trick us into playing The Quiet Game at school. All I could hear was my own breathing, and I soon enough hushed that down. It was just me, unconsciously meditating, and drinking in the nature around me. We were lost, and we were probably going to die, but if I had to pick a place to die I could sure do a lot worse.
My reverie was soon enough broken by the booming voice of my strangely wild-eyed Dad who found me and wrapped me up in the longest hug of my life. I kept my promise to free Herman, and off we went to the campsite. I was safe, but changed by the experience.
On Earth Day, I think about crawdads. I think of generations of Hooks boys—my dad, me, and now my two sons—running through the Arkansas woods and knowing wonder without fear. And I think of my home state’s special places, and the memories I haven’t made yet.
Glen Hooks is a lifelong Arkansan and native of Gravel Ridge. He describes himself primarily as a recovering attorney, professional do-gooder, and a proud Southern liberal. By day, Glen works for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. He lives in Little Rock, Arkansas and is the father of two outstanding teenaged sons.