April of 1970. I was only 16 years old at the time. The world was in turmoil due to the social and societal changes brought about by the 60’s. The Vietnam war, race riots, killings of Dr. King and Malcolm X, LSD and Woodstock were all relatively recent news. It was a time which is difficult to explain to those who did not live through it. The closest I can come is to say that it seemed like virtually everything was up in the air. Any day could have brought the “revolution” that would have split the country even further apart.
The “generation gap” was in full swing. The world that our parents were born into was formed by the relief they felt at the end of a World War and the pleasure they received as the emerging middle and upper class in a post-war American full of prosperity. We “baby boomers” felt that there must be more to life than having a nice spouse, home and car. Perhaps it was the closer communication with others brought about by television, satellites and other high technology. Whatever force was behind it, there is little doubt that our generation sensed that something was VERY WRONG and was attempting to learn and perhaps take action to help solve some of these modern problems.
But how to solve anyone else’s problems before you solve your own? Although I had vague ideas of what I wanted to do in life, my lack of skills and maturity left me incapable of taking any action. My teenage years had been a seesaw of ups and downs, including constant run-ins with the law, my parents and the school administration. Drugs, distraction and disinterest made it difficult for me to learn anything in school. On many days we’d simply meet at school and then go to the home of any friend whose parents would be gone for the day. Some good hash or weed or wine would make for a much more pleasant day than sitting in a classroom!
As a resident of the Philadelphia suburbs, I had long been attending the weekly “be-ins” at Belmont Plateau, a beautiful hillside in the cities’ Fairmont Park. These get-togethers were unorganized, but attracted up to 15,000 local folks who would play drums, guitars, picnic, smoke pot and hang out.
At the beginning of April 1970, the local radio station started advertising a special “Earth Day” celebration at Belmont Plateau. The promotion was fairly constant for the next two weeks and everybody was talking about the event. It seemed like the whole world was going to attend! The radio promised speakers, musical entertainment and workshops.
On the fateful day, I left school (it was a weekday) got a ride with some friends to Belmont Plateau. Upon arrival we noticed a large crowd of about 20,000 people with more coming every minute. We turned our attention to more important things – we needed to find some drugs!
I searched around and finally came upon a friend who was one of the leading dealers in Philadelphia Region at the time – a good and wise gentleman by the name of Joseph Liberty (deceased 1971 in car accident). Joe was one of the people responsible for turning on the entire Philadelphia region. He personally smuggled dope from all over the world and also acted as a middleman for suppliers of other recreational drugs. He was an “enlightened” dealer who believed in the mind expanding abilities of his products…you might say he was a Shaman of the times.
Upon locating Joe, I approached him and asked him if he had any pot to sell. He looked at me with a smile and said “I don’t have anything to sell today, and proceeded to give us some freebies to feed our head.
Soon after, I become separated from my buddies…and then the real trip began. A rock group named Redbone took the stage. Redbone was a rock group made up of Native Americans who played an especially soulful form of “roots” music. However, I soon found out that they were magicians who were playing at the highest levels of spirit.
I was about 200 feet from the stage, immediately outside of what I would call the “direct influence” of the music. By “direct influence”, I mean the part of the crowd that moved in beat to every lick of the music…a perimeter usually determined by the strength of the sound system combined with the rhythm of the band. From my vantage point on a small hill I could easily observe the goings-on on the stage and in the crowd.
The band established a groove that was hypnotic and brought the crowd into a frenzy. The movements of the crowd and the music became one…the Native Americans established a “peace dance” that spoke directly to the soul. It was then that I experienced a telepathic act that was to change my thinking about the potential of the collective human mind. In the middle of a long jam, the guitar player started to swing his hand quickly over his strings in a muted fashion which made a sound like wings flapping. At the same time, he pointed the neck of his guitar about 150 feet into the audience. I immediately noticed that the person he pointed to lifted a small child above his head…the guitar player, while continuing to make the fluttering sound, swept sideways over the crowd with the neck of the guitar – and the small child was passed over each persons head at an unbelievable pace – so quickly that it took less than 3 seconds for the child to travel over the entire crowd!
This act was impossible by any normal standards. There was not time to tell the next person that a kids was coming. The only explanation was that every person in the audience was on the exact same wavelength at the exact nanosecond with the guitar player acting as the director of energy. I have never witnessed anything like it in the 4 decades since!
When the music ended, the stage was taken by visiting officials – including Edmund Muskie of Maine, who gave speeches about the importance of turning the tide in a fight for a clean environment. As impressed as I was by these speeches, they were still just words and paled next to a man who was next introduced on the stage.
An old man with long grey hair, a beard and ragged clothes was brought to the podium and introduced as the Hermit of Fairmont Park. He spoke the following words “Children, I have been living in this Park for 40 years and all the time I was waiting for this day. The day when people would again realize and understand that the Earth was theirs and when they would come back to it. This is that day.” – and with that he started crying and left the stage.
Folks, this was heavy-duty! Imagine this kind soul who lived in the woods of Fairmont Park though most of the century saying that THIS WAS THE DAY that he had waited for his entire life…very uplifting.
As you can imagine, the combined effect of these talks and experiences had their effect on me…and, 50,000+ other folks were there – hopefully all having similar experiences – it occurred to me that this might just be the sea change that would put us (humanity) on the right path.
The Earth Day rally ended with a short talk by Allen Ginsburg, who led a 50,000 person “OM” to close the proceedings. I continued to hear that OM for many minutes as I walked toward my home, which was about 2 miles from the Park. Finally, I looked overhead and saw a helicopter which was partially responsible for the OM not leaving my head.
As I walked home, I truly believed that the world had changed. After all, the Earth Day ceremony was carried live on the radio and attended by almost everyone in the area. Surely everyone had gotten the message. I looked at the people passing me in their cars and noticed that they were all looking out the windows as if they were seeing the world for the first time. Yes…they obviously had heard…and now they knew!
Along my walk were beautiful properties with old stone houses and green fields – many were private schools and institutions. They were surrounded by Iron fences, which were representative of how we often lock beauty and nature behind such walls. Yet, here the people and I were, out enjoying this world as if for the first time.
As I walked across the large field behind my house, I smelled smoke…something was burning….It was my house – the place where I was raised and lived with my parents, brother and sister – IT WAS BURNING! – Or, so I thought until I got closer. Amazing the tricks the mind can play…or, As Buddha said “Everything is Burning”.
I entered the house and went up to my room still feeling that the entire world had changed. My younger sister, who had planned to attend Earth Day, came into my room to say hello. “Didn’t you see, don’t you know?” were my first words to her. She then informed me that she never made it to the celebration and therefore had no idea what I was talking about.
Didn’t take too long after that to come down from my Earth Day high. However, it remains a day when I learned many lessons from my fellow human beings. These lessons have been reinforced by experiences in the years since and have become an integral part of who I am. I am thankful to the organizers of this event as well as the good people who attended, entertained, spoke and carried the meaning of that day into the future.
Happy Earth Day!