Precious wild places with their resident plants and animals speak to us through these winners. They inspire in us a greater awareness of the environment’s significance, ways in which it contributes to our well being and why we need to protect it from harm.
“Fences” Poem and Photo, Sense of Wonder
By Dennis (18) and his mother, Amy (USA)
RCLA Comment: In “Fences” written with his mother, Dennis celebrates his discovery of freedom and joy in the natural world. Exuberant and inspiring it recounts how a family helped a son to become aware of nature’s wonders. This young man shares a remarkable experience with his readers. In the accompanying photograph, Dennis and his father observe the Colorado River in Arizona from high above Horseshoe Bend.”
What is the wonder of nature,
to a child living in a prison?
In an orphanage with bars on windows,
with a fence that keeps you in?
Where is the wonder of nature,
when you can’t see past your dirty window?
When your view of nature is clouded,
by cement walls and brick buildings?
Locked inside, there is no wonder.
Fenced in, there is no nature.
Confined, there is no freedom.
Alone, there is no hope.
But then one day everything changes.
I am 11.
I am adopted.
I now have a family and my family loves nature.
They teach me the wonder of it by camping, hiking, exploring.
They show me the beauty of it by traveling, climbing, soaring.
The world is bigger and more stunning than I could have ever imagined .
Now I cling to my dad on a mountaintop, a sheer cliff inches away.
The roaring Colorado River rushes in a perfect arc below.
The desert land stretches out so far in front of me I can’t even see where it ends.
I feel the mighty wind blowing up from the deep gorge beneath.
There is nothing surrounding me but miles of soft blue sky and rocky land.
The emerald green river showing off as it rounds the bend.
Boulders the size of cars look like tiny pebbles from my rocky perch.
I am so high above the ground that birds below me dance and glide and search.
Nature is smiling and asking me, “Where are your fences now?”
Nature is boasting, “Can you see my beauty?”
Nature is screaming, “Can you feel my freedom?”
Nature is asking, “Do you now understand my wonder?”
• • • • •
“Twilight in the Mangrove Forest” Poem, Sense of Wonder
By Cojitha (12) and his mother Layanthi (Sri Lanka)
RCLA Comment: Due to the pandemic in 2020, a son who is under lockdown with his family remembers happier childhood hours spent in the Muthurajawela wetlands haven. It was a time when this coastal mangrove forest revealed its “hidden treasures” its herons, egrets, families of crabs and baby fish. Both son and mother hold a special place in their hearts for the animals sheltered by this wondrous wetland. Writing their evocative tribute to nature’s tranquility and diversity recalled these shared times and brought mother and son closer together.
TWILIGHT IN THE MANGROVE FOREST
Dusk sets in, as a magnificent prelude to night,
The darkening clouds: a perfect foil for the setting sun,
The mangrove forest changes under the rose-gold light,
The dune-green waters now shimmer in colors bold,
While its inherent stillness remains untouched.
This land of salty swamps through which only a few do tread,
Hold hidden treasures manifold,
The glossy ibises, egrets and blue herons who frequent here,
Keep these secrets close to their feathered breasts.
Revealing its wonders to a few kindred souls.
Breathing roots anchor mangrove trees to shore.
Peg roots, knee roots and prop roots too,
Provide a haven for baby fish. Keeping predators far, far away.
So, families of crabs and shrimp spend their childhood here.
Perhaps, this is where, like me, they’ve spent their happiest years!
Slowly but surely, the night turns inky black, and fireflies light the way.
On hanging vines of mangrove trees
Thousands of butterflies, peacefully doze away.
In the distance, two red dots, suddenly I do spy
The shining eyes of a crocodile, finding nocturnal prey.
Wetlands and tranquility go hand in hand,
A gift of the tide is this unique land.
An inheritance from the past, on loan from the future,
It’s mine for today, to enjoy, to experience.
And its beauty is unsurpassed.
• • • • •
“Quercus rubra Speaks” Essay and Photo, Sense of Wonder/Wild
By Ruby (16) and her aunt, Aileen (USA)
RCLA Comment: A niece and aunt team up to investigate the life and lessons of a towering, neighborhood red oak tree. They imagine its growth from a “beret capped acorn” to a honored “queen” of 194 years, and what it might say if this venerable elder could speak: of the service it has provided to the community, and of the countless lives it has witnessed, supported and protected, human and non-human alike. Through creating their entry, both team members have come to “see more clearly all the plants and creatures within our midst.” Further, this project drove home their realization that “nature is right here with us, all around us” [and that] “the native plants living in our community are really very special and fascinating.”
QUERCUS RUBRA SPEAKS
It is early fall and I am visiting my aunt in the suburbs just on the outskirts of New York city. I walk barefoot around the base of a mammoth red oak tree. This particular oak stands at the end of the street, quiet and powerful and I imagine her a she although I know she is both male and female. She appears as a queen to me with a mighty crown of yellowing leaves held high in the sunlight by her loving arms. Earlier in the day, my aunt and I measured her and using the mathematical formula for determining the age of a red oak, we calculated her age to be 194 years. She, so unassuming, largely unnoticed by human passersby, is an integral and critical creature of this suburban environment.
This regal Quercus Rubra, beautiful red tree, begotten by a fuzzy catkin and a flower, began as a beret capped acorn. Against the odds, this seedling found her footing in fecund soil. Pressed into leaf litter and earth by the footsteps of animals wandering in the woods. For nearly two centuries she has given unconditionally to us. And we humans, living next to her, beneath her, have barely acknowledged her grandeur.
As I stood looking up at her wide arms and golden yellow leaves showcased by the light of the setting sun, I imagined she could speak to me. The soles of my bare feet, touching softly the ground above the vast network of her roots, I heard her. A sibilant sound at first, then less so.
“I am not simply ‘tree’ I am living being. In my lifetime I have witnessed the birth and death of countless other forest creatures, humans among them. Born in 1826, I stood here spectator to the American Civil War. Imagine? I am an integral being in this ecological community; myself an environment determining the survival of 1000’s of other living beings. I am provider, protector and keeper of the hearth for caterpillars, birds, grey squirrel, deer and black bear. I offer you shade, furniture and firewood and I am the skeleton of the building you call home. The plants and animals living in your neighborhood are largely here for you because of my existence.
Just like you, I breathe. I live, I give, and I die. I implore you to notice me, to feel your soul connected to me. My gifts are abundant, and I expect little in return. I restore, I do not destroy, deeply respecting this community of interconnected beings. To control nature is not the way of survival. We are partners in this vast ecosystem, humans and non-humans alike.”
This moment in time lives within me now. A born in knowing in me was awakened. To be with her, aware and bathing in her energetic presence, has been an enlightenment. I shall proceed in my life with reverence and respect for this earth and my place within the web wondering “how can I give back what has been given to me?”
• • • • •
“Nature’s Hug” Essay, Sense of Wonder
By Ji-Woo (17) and teacher, Yvette (South Korea)
RCLA Comment: Thanksgiving time in South Korea is one of the busiest holidays. During this season, families travel to the birthplace of ancestors. In the course of performing the family rite of clearing weeds from the ancestral burial mound, a slightly annoyed but “obedient daughter” Ji-Woo discovers her own connection to nature’s “sacred secret.” Mindful of this special experience she celebrates the “beautiful tapestry of sound and sights” that leads to this awareness of nature’s wonder all around her. Further, in conjunction with her teacher, Yvette, Ji-Woo would wish that people could take time away from today’s “technological prisons” to “just feel the warm hug of nature.”
Every year we follow the traditional pilgrimage to the birthplace of our ancestors. Even though we get to spend time with our entire family, it is not always such a pleasant trip to look forward to especially for our generation. This particular year, we traveled to our grandparents house in Daegu, which is normally a one and a half hour trip. Due to the high volume of traffic, it turned into a nightmare of about three to four hours. Needless to say, I wasn’t in any mood to participate in any activities or festivities.
On this specific occasion, my parents had asked us to accompany them to the burial mound of our ancestors. This is not the kind of test I like to do because laboring around the grave site, cleaning away weeds makes me sweaty and who knows what kind of bugs are hiding underneath the rocks and leaves. Also, there is always the aspect of annoyance due to the multitude of cousins from different ages running around causing chaos.
As I feel I am an obedient daughter, I started clearing away some of the weeds around the burial mound among the noisiness and chatter. It was at that moment that I became aware of another world surrounding me. Bees were lazily buzzing between the flowers, drinking their fill on the last nectar of the season. The sun shone brightly, the rays touching the delicate petals of the sky-blue hydrangeas. Sparrows were playfully chasing each other through the leaves, filling the air with their cheerful bird song.
The landscape had become this beautiful tapestry of sound and sights. The warm wind repeatedly nudged at my mind while I was pondering the thought of what a beautifully decorated sanctuary my ancestors chose for their final resting place. What a symphony of bird song was tickling my ears and what an endless deep blue sky was protecting its precious cargo.
I no longer felt like I was toiling. Time seemed to pass slowly as I was enchanted in this breathtaking moment. As I was reaching completion, the trees put down their leaves and branches, sipped their water in the calm atmosphere of the dusk and sighed. The flowers on the ground bid each other farewell and a good night as the birds retired back to their nests and the sun made a gracious bow after its glorious performance.
Through this experience, I had the honor of nature sharing her sacred secret with me. I felt like I was melting into the mother of all creatures. It aroused in me the eagerness to fondly remember this amazement for a long time and remind myself of the beauty all around me. I wish people in modern society could just remove themselves from their technological prisons and just feel the warm hug of nature.