While on a canoeing trip in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, my friend and I got out of our boats to go for a hike alongside a creek. We found a fairly large crayfish during our adventure. Finding this crayfish as a college student had a larger effect on me than I expected it would. It got me thinking about catching crayfish in the creek with my friends and family in middle school and early high school. Like most middle school students, I was unaware of the magnitude and scope of the environmental issues we face in today’s society.
As I grew older, I pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and expanded my knowledge of environmental issues and the economic, social and political reasons for our struggle to protect the Earth, while staying passionate about conserving resources for future generations.
Now, reading story after story on my Twitter timeline about Keystone XL, songbird decline, politicians’ speeches, stresses me out and sometimes makes it difficult to remain hopeful about the environment. It is easy to get bogged down and have a defeatist attitude about the state of the planet and the lack of stewardship of our ecosystems, but taking the time to get back out in nature reminds me of what I fight for day-to-day as an environmentalist.
I started taking walks outside through parks or along the ocean without my iPhone in college. I love the freedom of not knowing what time it is and not compulsively checking my phone to see if I have any text messages. Part of getting back outside isn’t just going to a park and taking a walk; it is connecting with nature without distractions.
I used to walk through a state park near campus. I would turn around when I reached a certain bridge in the park, but one night I realized a small wooden plank foot path leading farther into the forest. I went down this path, and listened for the birds. I was delighted to see a woodpecker looking for food in a tree trunk. She was seemingly unaware of the water quality below her; I noticed a nice shiny top coat of some kind of pollutant, most likely from mining, on the water. It was then that I realized that my “get back into nature” idea is somewhat of a cycle. When I get bogged down by all of the problems we have created, I go for a hike and submerge myself under the tree tops. When I see a filmy cover on the creek water, I am motivated once again to go back out and fight for species like the woodpecker. And, I’m sure, when fighting the good fight has me down again, I will go back into the park to repeat the cycle to find the motivation to provide my children with the opportunity to be able to go to the creek and catch a crayfish, as I once did, without getting sick from the quality of the water.