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I like to think the photo op was about my sign, but "Climate strike" was hardly original.

I also like to think the three of us sitting on that bench looked so classy people couldn't help but want our picture. And I like to make-believe I'm in my 30's, too, but the old bod corrects that notion after I've been sitting too long, like on said bench.

What stung, although sweetly since I think it was sweetly meant, was the realization that the many polite attendees who kept asking if it was all right to take our picture mainly saw three old silverbacks still out there on the protest trail. Perhaps we symbolized longevity in the long fight, or perhaps it was just that our gray-white heads sparkled in the day's sunshine.

I like to think all those young photographers asked because they actually had learned the manners their parents, or grandparents our age, had taught them. On the flip side of the compliment, however, lurked the suspicion they also thought we were curiosities, the last of the dinosaurs, or perhaps that we represented a line-up of faces of failure, those who have not stopped climate change. Whatever their motives, we three were a bit surprised and amused that anyone would ask to take a picture in a place where everyone wants their signs admired and slogans shared. I just hope we don't wind up on social media.

The day was one of contrasts. There were high school and college-age youth, as well as millennials (born 1981-1996), a goodly portion of baby boomers (1946-1964), and the rest of us. A parade around the square opened the local participation in the Fridays for Future global climate strike on Sept. 27 with music to lift us up and speakers to remind us why we were there. But for those of us who, for one issue or another, had "been there, done that" many times before, the day felt somewhat like a homecoming. So much so that it seemed we knew people there who we really didn't know. One gal came up to us and said she could tell by our mutual ages that we had all carried a few signs in our time, and we chatted about everything from wars to clean air demonstrations before she went on her way. A while later she returned with a box of party-size cupcakes to share with her contemporaries, a kind of statement of celebration, I suppose.

I looked around at that crowd and began to think about what all we older ones had seen and what the younger ones are going to see. As my life flashed before me so did the wonders of the national parks my parents took me to and the magnificent magnolia tree at my grandmother's, which guaranteed I'd become a treehugger. That day in college when I saw a "Save the Buffalo" petition in the student union became my first day as an activist as I joined the Ozark Society fighting to save that river the first time around in the 1960's. After marriage, I got a receptionist job at the Soil Conservation Service, which I expanded to encompass school programs on soil and trees.

My husband and I, both cavers, helped write cave preservation legislation and joined the board of The Alabama Conservancy, which was engaged in an effort to preserve wilderness east of the Mississippi River. Then a few years later, the Eastern Wilderness Bill passed Congress.

A collection of environmental issues became a party of my life over the decades: Recycling and solid waste, air and water pollution, nuclear power plant construction, highways slicing through lower-income neighborhoods, aerial pesticide spraying, conversion of forests into tree farms, wildlife extinctions, soil contamination and erosion, toxic incinerators and landfills, urban forestry loss, urban over-development, fracking, oil pipelines, wetland drainage, chemicals everywhere, green space preservation, and saving the Buffalo River -- again.

Looking over our local crowd adding support to the global cry for climate action, which will decide humanity's future, I felt the passing of the torch from us old warriors on the bench to the young ones who will cross the finish line with what we've handed them. Our task is, and always has been, to hand them the best future we possibly can. It's way past time to pay those dues.

Commentary on 10/08/2019

Print Headline: Passing of the torch

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