The morning air on my face was a pleasant alarm clock as I stepped off the front porch for a sneaker-clad commute.
Resolved to commemorate Earth Day as the diehards do, I began the 1 1/2-mile journey to work on foot rather than behind the wheel, determined to absorb the "alternative transportation" experience that's ruled the community's Green Commute Day for the last three years.
Apparently I wasn't the only one.
In what seems to have been the largest buildup to Green Commute Day yet with more than 30 prizes donated by local businesses, employers encouraging their employees to participate were armed with forms so participants can report how they got to work or school. (The forms will be turned in for a prize drawing. The grand prize is a new bike from Bicycle Barn.) By 10 a.m. two of the businesses had already run out of forms, event organizers said. The depletion of the forms was a signal that loads of people had taken the initiative to bike, walk, carpool, scooter or take the bus today.
Members of the Walla Walla Area Earth Day Coordinating Committee think of the event as an impetus for raising the community's collective green consciousness.
"I think the idea is to not just make this a single day, but to use this to focus on things that can really impact sustainability for the long-term," said committee member Dan Clark.
"I think part of this is to get people thinking, 'What is available to me?' Is it ride-sharing? Biking?"
Personally, I had hoped to catch a glimpse of some truly alternative transportation during my walk. Maybe someone on a unicycle, for instance. Or a horse. Instead I counted just three bicyclists on my route up Boyer Avenue around 7:30 a.m. For the record, I also saw three dogs, four ducks and a guy walking mysteriously barefoot.
But meandering through the historic homes, the lush Whitman College campus and up the undisturbed streets of downtown gave me a surprisingly serene start to the typically frenetic pace of the day.
Linda Herbert, a nurse at Providence St. Mary Medical Center and co-chair of the hospital's Green Team, said this is also what she most loves about bicycling to work every day.
"It's the best part of my morning to have a bike ride before work and the best way to end the workday," she said.
Herbert said administrators at the hospital set an example for employees this morning. Steve Burdick, the chief executive officer at the hospital who not long ago had knee replacement surgery, walked a portion of the way to work from his home in College Place. Two other vice presidents at the medical center also walked to work.
A lot of other employers have stepped in to participate, as well. Among them: Walla Walla Community College, Walla Walla University, Whitman College, the cities of Walla Walla and College Place, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla General Hospital, Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center, Coffey Communications, Baker Boyer Bank, YMCA and Seven Hills Winery. Valley Transit is hosting free-fare service all day.
Clark said support from local business is a good barometer for the consciousness raised throughout the community. That was especially true when a number of businesses endorsed the sales-tax increase to support Valley Transit, he said.
"This shows us that the general level of sustainability or earth-consciousness is rising," he said.
So why aren't more of us doing it?
For me -- as with many people in the community -- there are still logistical roadblocks. I work in a position that requires me to have transportation and to be prepared to go just about anywhere in the Valley at any time. Even so, there are other -- albeit vain -- considerations: What if I sweat? Will I have to bring a change of clothes? (I hate practical shoes.) What about my purse? I don't want to be burdened by things to carry, but some items simply can't stay behind.
Obstacles for others are even greater. What if you live in Touchet and work in Walla Walla?
"For those who couldn't even consider a green commute, those people still have an opportunity to make a difference," Herbert said.
She said little changes -- taking the stairs instead of the elevator, taking one napkin instead of a pile, re-using a cup instead of throwing one away -- can make a big difference for the environment.
Whether local residents adopt new forms of transportation or not, Clark said one important aspect of Green Commute Day is to simply get people to consider it.
"I think part of this is to get people thinking, 'What is available to me?'" he explained. "We hope that after this is all over the participating groups could sit down and think about how can we change or enhance our practices."
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8321.
Earth day celebration
Green Commute Day is just one part of a greater celebration of the planet and environment. A communitywide Earth Celebration Fair will take place Saturday at Crawford Park, Fourth Avenue and Main Street, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Booths will offer bike-safety checks and demonstrate why sustainable agriculture is important to the health of the community. Information will be provided on incentives and rebates for those with energy-saving appliances and fixtures. The event will feature a number of giveaways, including bike helmets for children, CFL light bulbs, re-useable shopping bags and a variety of indigenous plants and trees for attendees to take away and plant.
Valley Transit will provide fare-free rides, as well as extended hours of service during the fair, which will also feature live music and informational talks.