Natural Treasures: A Personal Investigation

Since elementary school and before, I’ve had a passion for the natural world. One of my first pet obsessions concerned lone tent caterpillars—I’d collect the creepy crawlies (whom I viewed as cute and fuzzy), feed them their favorite multiflora rose and hawthorn leaves, and carefully handle them daily until they became lethargic and started trailing tiny threads of silk. Holed away in their faux natural environment, one by one the caterpillars would find a secluded space under a pile of leaves or in the corner and go to work, spinning themselves up in silk and disappearing in a cocoon. Days would pass. Maybe a week or two. I didn’t mind—there were other caterpillars to play with. One by one, I’d find a cocoon broken open, messy like something had been born there. I’d know that somewhere in the miniature jungle I’d created, a new moth was ready and waiting to be released.

Until middle school my family lived in a small neighborhood with limited natural treasures, but I didn’t realize it at the time. Sometimes we’d go visit SUNY IT and stroll the campus, with me gawking at milkweed, monarchs, and one day a spectacular Luna Moth. (It’s amusing to me that I have memories of SUNY Poly stretching back 10+ years, though I became an official student only two years ago.) When we moved a few miles away to the “country,” I was surrounded by woodland on most sides, utterly enraptured by the acres of nature suddenly available for me to explore. By this time I was homeschooled and able to spend hours hiking, observing nature, discovering new species (new to me), and taking thousands of photographs. And though now I’m a college student, so busy that I often forgo my hikes, my passion for nature remains.

I still live at home and I’ve seen the trees go down around the neighborhood, new houses go up, elderly neighbors pass away and the next generation arrive. Part of me laments the decreasing wilderness of the area and the increase in human presence, with the occasional shouting and laughing, music and light pollution, and the general need to respect the neighbors. Part of me realizes that I was once a newcomer here—we knocked down trees to build our own house, and became a human presence where there had been none before. Some of our neighbors have been here for 50 years—Norm planted the red pine trees to our North, now towering adults 60 feet high. Everyone was a newcomer to this wilderness once.

I’ve been a junior docent at the Utica Zoo, and taken an Environmental Science class at MVCC. I’ve realized that the solution most environmentalists call for is more legislation, stricter laws to protect the environment. I don’t agree with this. Not yet. I’m a diehard Libertarian and it will take a lot to convince me that government is the answer, but I also have a deep love of wilderness and it hurts me to see wild areas disappear. What is the answer? Is there even a problem?

There are many reasons to want to conserve wild areas, but my biggest reason is that these places are valuable to me personally as places of otherness and connection to a bigger, older world. I want wild areas to exist, but I want humans to be free. My best answer to this “problem” right now is education—show the world the beauty of these places, through writing, photography, film, even through captive organisms, and hope to inspire a respect for and connection with wild places.

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2 thoughts on “Natural Treasures: A Personal Investigation

  1. We had a house that bordered the woods and I, too, spend many an afternoon tromping around back ther, playing in the creek, becoming a master of mud pies. A new neighbor moved in a decade ago and tore down a lot of trees to create a backyard living space. I was furious. It wasn’t his to flatten. However, nature paid him back: the mosquitoes are so bad back there, the family never hangs out and the area is going wild again. Nature wins!

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    1. You had a creek?! I’m jealous. The closest thing to my home that resembles a creek is a half mile+ away. Oh no . . . that’s really too bad about the woods. It’s great when nature scores a point back though! It’ll be a bushy wonderland again in, well, 20 years or so.

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