April: the time of new buds on trees, Easter bunnies, cherry blossoms, and new Marvel movies. April also happens to be Keep America Beautiful Month, started by the aptly-named Keep America Beautiful organization. And while we all dream of taking a road trip to Yellowstone or hiking the Maroon Bells, you don't have to go far in order to appreciate American beauty-- in fact, it's usually right outside your window.
It sounds dumb. Old-man-like. Yes, I can hear your great uncle Herbert's knee replacement creaking from here. Hear me out. Freshman ecology will tell you migratory avians leave their wintering grounds during April and May. These birds have to stop somewhere, and with a little seed—and a little luck—some will inevitably come wandering your way. While it looks easy, bird-watching becomes more difficult the further you get into it. You'll start to recognize species and those that are common in your backyard, versus those that are only there for a short time. Beautiful little birds like Baltimore Orioles, ruby-throated hummingbirds and larger avians like American white pelicans can all be seen over most of the contiguous United States during spring. And, to help you keep track, the National Audubon Society has even put out an app that allows you to catalog and keep track of your birds.
2. Clean up a public space.
For those of us in big cities, frequently there are one or two locally-known parks nearby. In Denver, for example, I was on the border between the Washington Park and Observatory Park neighborhoods. In urban and suburban areas, frequently there are already programs and organizations in place that clean up these spaces. For Wash Park, the City of Denver has a volunteer program where you can help public works employees (if you happen to live near Wash Park, you can find that here). In more rural areas, the programs might not be in place. Either create one (how about a park BBQ after a long day of plastic hunting?) or just be conscientious of the trash around you on your next walk. On a four mile run, I once collected so much trash I had to run by the dumpsters twice. Imagine if we all did that!
3. Plant a garden with plants/ trees native to your state.
This is one of the easier ways to celebrate both Keep America Beautiful Month and Earth Day. By planting flora that are native to your home, you're saving water (this is especially true in desert climates, where Bermuda grass isn't the smartest option), saving the soil (plants tend to gravitate and like specific soils and by planting non-native plants you could possibly be messing up the chemical composition of the dirt), helping the animals (think pollinators like bees and birds that eat seeds) or even preventing an invasion (see: kudzu). While planting on your own property is simplest, helping out a park or even a business get jump-started on gardening can be the first step in freshening up a neighborhood block.
4. Buy local produce.
In case you haven't heard, the "locavore" movement is alive and well. Buying local supports small businesses encourages smaller-scale farming (which tend less towards large-scale pesticide bombings) and reduces the energy cost and carbon footprints of the food by taking large-scale, long-distance transportation out of the equation. Buying local is buying sustainably. It's not possible to get everything you need from a farm in Minnesota or Kansas or Florida, and it doesn't have to be the goal. Even going to farmer's markets or picking out fruit that you know is in season around you contributes and can help. Remember: it's about the little steps that all add up.
While not all of us will be able to experience the Grand Canyon or the redwood forests or the Aspen trail system—especially during the final exam crunch that is April—these four ideas are easy enough for anyone to do, and a great way to ensure we all do our part to keep our country as pristine and beautiful as it is, and deserves to be.