I choose to sit not on the manmade wooden bench but on the ground, this sorry excuse for ‘grass.’ Maybe it’s a desperate attempt to feel more connected with nature, or maybe I just want to go against the grain. Either way, I’m here right now and doing my best to be present, despite the ever-so-many distractions currently presenting themselves.
Among the first thoughts to cross my mind is how warm it is, especially considering the first day of fall was just earlier this week. It was never like this ten years ago, when I was nine years old and all that mattered in the world was who got to the swings first during recess. But now, at nineteen, I can’t help but feel the weight of our dying world on my shoulders. I have to remind myself that there’s nothing I can do in these next fifteen minutes, no matter how hard I try.
I notice that I’ve subconsciously picked up a twig and have begun rolling it between my fingers. I am reminded of the thick forests I find myself in during every free moment when I’m home, in the one place I truly feel at peace. My closest friends and I would spend hours exploring new trails, climbing waterfalls, watching meteor showers, and swimming in lakes during our carefree summers, before all these internships and summer classes started. I remember coming home with scratches up and down my legs after hours of trailblazing, burrs caught in my pants and shoelaces, and waves of endorphins after an exhilarating hike. It was easy to dismiss climate change and deforestation and the extinction of species I had never even seen from the safety of the woods. I don’t feel that way here, though. I feel like a seasoned cynic, sitting here, deliberating about whether anything I do, all I’ve tried to do, will be enough. It feels the weight of the world is on my (and my generation’s) shoulders.
I see a beautiful, old, solid tree – the type I’d aspire to be like – but my view is blocked by an obscure sculpture. One could spend all day interpreting what its dark color and obscure angles represent about life and the human condition, but all I see right now is an obstruction: an obstruction to the comfort of nature and solitude that I so desperately seek at this school. Is there not anywhere on this extensive campus where one can be alone?
I turn my gaze to the ground in front of me—surely it must be beautiful, and yet again, I’m fooled. As if Mother Nature herself took up this sculpting as a pastime, a pinecone sits directly opposite a crinkled candy bar wrapper. I tuck the wrapper in my pocket. I hear a soft buzzing noise and turn to see not a bee, but the rectangular electronic device that acts as our lifeblood to the rest of the world, replacing our mouths and actual human interaction with thumbs drumming on keyboards and hashtags. I look up to see the blue sky lined with cumulonimbus clouds, my favorite. But even the sky is contaminated by humans. Like clockwork, every two minutes the dull roars of airplane engines drown out the wind and occasional cricket chirps. If not planes, I hear sirens coming from the nearby road, or the faint laughs of eager freshmen desperate for friends. Life was simpler last year, when I was in their position; now, not so much. Something tells me I shouldn’t just sit here, that there’s something I must do. Still, though, I long for that simplicity.
An ant crawls onto my leg, but I don’t really mind. It tickles a bit, but she’s just going about her day, just like all of us. The use of ‘she’ here isn’t a social statement, anthropomorphizing the ant to humanize insects or promote women’s rights; it’s about science! All male ants have wings and the females are the sterilized workers you see crawling along the ground. I sometimes wonder why people believe the environment is simply a device used to divide us and promote the interest of certain agendas. While these issues are important, I think the environmental crisis we’re in should be far more straightforward. What I’m concerned with is the wellbeing of the planet, which doesn’t need to work towards any agenda, except maybe the survival of the human species.
This nature might not be the beautiful waterfalls and forests where I feel so at home, but this nature serves another, possibly more important purpose. This small patch of sparse, dead grass that I’m sitting upon as I observe this litter-filled, noise-polluted, constructed piece of nature is representative of the vast human impact on the environment. It’s easy to forget when on a vacation at a national park, during an internship in the Kenyan savannah, or even back home, in rural Upstate New York. Nothing is left unaffected by human impacts on the environment, and it’s up to us to save what’s left.