Becoming a Peaceful Earth Warrior
by Susan Schirl Smith

It was that picture of the battered baby seal on the cover of the World Wildlife Fund magazine that did it. At 17, I became an environmentalist, an activist, a champion of the vulnerable and downtrodden. Rachel Carson poster on the wall. Daktari my favorite TV show. The flag award for caring about the other human animals in the world. Inspired years earlier by my mother’s rescue of some pigeons from the neighborhood boys and her subsequent splinting of their legs with popsicle sticks to heal them. I felt empathically the suffering of those creatures.

Overall clad, work boot shod, I ventured off to college in New Hampshire to study Wildlife Management. The profession had the added benefit of not being a “stereotypical” woman’s career. Killing the proverbial two birds with one stone, though the phrase was the antithesis of the motivations. Fighting for my newborn rights as a woman along with those baby seals.

Chomping on the end buds of leaf-shorn vines and learning quickly what poison ivy looked like with and without leaves in the course called “Dendrology.” The first glimpse for this inner-city girl of a fox on a path. Illuminated by the setting sun through the late fall trees, it was a glowing red beacon leading me down a new path. Finding home, in the whispers of those trees. Even when those trees came to terrify me as I walked down the street, because I couldn’t identify them or figure out whether their buds were opposite or alternate.

At 17, the light dawned that we are of this planet, not the owners of it. Travelers on Mother Earth, along with all her other blessed creatures. Graced with, and burdened with the responsibility of caring for the planet. And each other.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Dressed, unsurprisingly, in overalls, I am with the cow that my college roommate was showing in a 4-H exhibition.  The 70s, in rural New Hampshire, were an inspirational time in the environmental movement.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My career in Wildlife Management was brief. As I stood on a hillside in two feet of snow, chipping at an ice-encased vine, I decided that my activism was going to take other forms.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susan Schirl Smith has worn many hats over the years: nurse, creative coach, holistic energy practitioner, and photographer, among others. Writing was always her first love, however, and she has been published at Silver Birch Press, in the Journal of Holistic Nursing, at Kind Over Matter, and is a contributor to the book Creating Time. The memoir of her relationship with her brother, Desperado, is her current project.