Selected 2021 Sense of Wonder/Sense of the Wild Contest Winners

Six Winning Entries from RCLA’s 2021 Rachel Carson
Intergenerational Sense of Wonder Sense of the Wild Contest as 
described in the February 2, 2022 “RCLA Friend” letter

The Cardio Mission

An evocative, Sense of Wonder/Sense of the Wild essay by 16 year old Sarah
and her mother Junee, with photo by 14 year old Daniel.

I eagerly walked with my mom from the parking lot down to the mouth of the trail. When we arrived, I knelt down and double knotted the new hiking boots I had impulsively grabbed at the thrift store the other night. I got up and gave my mom a big high five. We were about to get in our cardio for the week. My mom and I were on our newest fitness mission to try to lose weight through cardio. The Billy Goat Trail in Potomac, MD was our newest workout challenge. We were eager to burn some calories, but little did we know this one hike would change our perspective on nature.

My mom and I made our way into the thick of the trail. There were immense boulders we had to trudge over and thick tree roots we had to jump over. Although this hike was getting more strenuous by the minute, my mom and I smiled. Every few minutes or so, we would look down at our Fitbits and see the “calories burnt” measurements shooting upwards. We were staring at our wrists marvelling at the steps count when we bumped into the backs of an elderly couple. They were staring in awe at the river at the edge of the trail. We quickly murmured apologies and made our way to the edge of the trail to see for ourselves what was so marvelous. My mom and I peered over the edge and we both immediately turned to each other in awe. In the sun, the river looked like a glistening ribbon spread across the valley. The rushing water of the Potomac River gleamed a bright green turquoise. The fall foliage of October colorfully decorated the top of the other side of the river. The sound of the gushing water rang in my eardrum. It was as if the river itself was speaking to me.

I closed my eyes and blocked out every other sound except for the rushing river. I felt nature’s power embrace and engulf me. Everytime the water crashed into one of the big rocks along the side of the river, I was reminded of nature’s power and resilience. As I continued to listen on, I was interrupted by a rude awakening. A boy next to me dropped his water bottle down into the gorge. Everyone watched in shock as the water bottle tumbled into the water and was swept away. I stared at the small speck of the water bottle getting carried on and realized although nature was powerful, it was also extremely vulnerable. Who knows what could happen to that water bottle. Its cap could get swallowed by a bird, pollute drinking water, and it would take thousands of years to decompose. Small mistakes and poor decisions can all critically impact nature. In an era where this planet’s wellbeing is at critical risk, it is vital to remember we must be defenders of nature and take action to preserve and conserve our planet.


Fear Lost at Sea

An engaging Sense of Wonder essay by 14 year old Addison and tutor, 29 year old Greg.

It was Thursday at 8am, too early for any day to start. However, it wasn’t the sleep deprivation that was bothering me on the car ride to the docks, it was the sharks. Late last night, my mother had graciously informed me that we had a shark dive scheduled the following morning and, before I could protest or ask questions, she wished me good night, turned off the lights, and left me to my thoughts and imagination. The idea haunted me throughout my sleep. I dreamt of being submerged into the depths of the ocean, isolated in a tiny cage with humongous sharks circling me. It didn’t help that my mom told me in the morning that she wasn’t even going, just me and my sister. I tried to enjoy my last meal and car ride, but the idea of getting eaten alive by sharks was hard to ignore.

We arrived at the marina and a white boat sat tied to the dock waiting for us. It looked like it had come straight out of a horror movie: dust had built up on unused surfaces and cushions were old and tom. It did not help when I saw that our tour guides looked like they had no experience and just graduated high school. We set off and arrived at our destination, a cage bobbing up and down above the restless deep blue water, waiting for a new victim. We collectively put on snorkel gear so we could at least see the sharks before they killed us.

But, as soon as I got into the water, it cooled my skin from the blistering hot sun. The reflection of the sun gleamed at the peak of each wave, changing it to a light blue. As I put my head down into the clear, warm water, I saw twenty gray figures swimming gracefully around me. I almost mistook them for dolphins, but recognized the sharks’ characteristic back dorsal fin. It astonished me that I could even compare playful, innocent dolphins to supposedly violent and horrifying sharks. The sharks proved my nightmares wrong as they swam harmoniously and delicately through the sapphire blue sea. My muscles relaxed as I took in this magnificent scene where everything seemed at peace. I did not recognize the time ticking by, until the crew called us back to the boat. As the sun gently soaked up the last bit of water from us, we watched as the crew fed the sharks. It was then that I saw the brutality I expected the entire trip, the sharks thrashed about, attacking the food. Even then, I amazingly felt relaxed. I realized at that moment that even the darkest parts of nature are beautiful, though it’s only now that I appreciate the poetry in that thought, that the beauty around us should always be acknowledged even if our initial reaction is to only focus on the ugly. But in the moment, I could only smile at the world around me.


The Summer Snow

A vivid Sense of Wonder essay by 17 year old Eleanor and her mother, Dominique

The sun beat down on my aching arms as I swiftly maneuver along the shoreline. I am just inches away from the branches, reaching toward me like a hungry child reaching for candy. Soft webs of hair flicker across my face as the wind tickles the water, small waves laughing back at it.

The shoreline falls away but I follow, paddling until the bottom of my kayak scrapes gently against the shallow, rocky bottom. I push my paddle to unlodge the Carolina blue boat, and an Eddy current sweeps me around, twirling me away from the shallow shore.

I am dizzier than the day I imitated a ballerina.

When the boat stops, I glide through the water with no effort. My paddle drops as I melt under the sun. The wind stills. Relaxing, I tune in to the symphony of noise around me: the frogs croaking, the insects singing, the silent slip of a turtle sliding beneath the water.

I open my eyes.

One goose and her three goslings swim by, peddling an invisible tandem bike out of the small cove.

A family of turtles hides in the branches of a fallen tree, sunbathing until they see the blue of my kayak, then gliding underwater and out of sight until they pop back up twenty feet away.

Minnows dart from seaweed to algae, following their friends in a silent game of tag.

Frogs play hopscotch across the lily pads, following the tiny flies.

A water muskrat dives around me as he investigates my foreign vessel.

The white lilies cover any empty space in a summer snow; their petals open, as if to offer their tendrils of sunshine to anyone who may need it.

I am gentle with my paddle, shallow and slow, trying desperately not to disrupt any of the beauty around me as I spin the boat around. As I observe, I am filled with an overwhelming sense of calm, as if the surroundings have poured into my soul and eased all my worries.

I wonder, how did I miss this before.


The Blue Runner

By 15 year old Sabrina with her Mother, Kim — a stirring Sense of Wonder poem

The moment I step on deck, the sea takes me in. And though her chilling waves rain but the barest of mist on my nose, my eyes awaken at the touch-I am submerged by blue.

Above the bay, wind stokes clouds into wispy white flames, bounding between ears as it howls its nipping freedom. The dear sky is painted with blueberries and a miracle. Humanity’s morning star already looms far above our heads, but just beneath its burning brilliance is a warm shade of orange that blushes rosey pink and plum as it seeps past the horizon. Today, the Golden Gate is cast not in iron but rose-gold

But it is the bay beneath that truly captures my gaze. Waves buck wildly under, rolling with sheer power that sweep passengers off their feet. I don’t lose my footing. I lose my breath.

For the first time, I see seals playing and seagulls eating fish instead of animal crackers. For a moment, I am not a child of Suburbia on this little boat but a sun bleached sailor in a fisherman’s cap and pea coat, sailing his crystal ship into the ocean’s glittering.vastness. The sea foams at the surface like flowing beer, and I’m dressed in funeral blacks and shined leather shoes drunk and smiling

Though the flowers we scatter smell ashen, and the grape chew in my mouth is bittersweet, the sea tells me everything is alright. And I believe those bejeweled navy waves. I let them pull my heart under.

A frigid breeze pasts as I stand on deck, taking in the blinding sun. Passengers pull their coats tighter, frozen. I am frozen in awe.


The Little Things

A Sense of Wonder/Sense of the Wild poetic tribute to small urban wildlife
by 15 year old Alexander and his mother Heather.

In far-off lands, they say there are exotic beasts about

But alas, suburban California has none of those

I wonder why they get the leopards, penguins and rhinos

While we’re stuck with mule deer, quail and trout

Even these don’t stick around

It’s only the small that thrive

In a place like a city, or a suburb, or a town

Where the specialists don’t survive

While this fact admittedly stings,

I find solace in the beauty of the urban smaller things

Looking closer at all the birds, I see

They’re not all plainish brown

Some have vibrant carmine heads or black-and-white barred crowns

Singing, chirping, joining the chorus of dawn

Many of which I’ve heard, yet never saw

Reds, yellows, and cobalt-feathered wings

Adorn these little feathered things

Herpetofauna, oft-ignored,

Have many hidden secrets stored,

Pretty, skittish little beasts

Quite quick when dashing on all fours

From lopped-off tails to cute hatchlings

Impressive are these tiny things

New bugs pop up quite frequently,

A huge diversity under my feet

Earwigs, butterflies, jumping spiders,

Surprisingly inquisitive, aggressive or much flightier

Delicate legs or crystal sheens

Are hard to notice on these dainty things

Even the mundane beasts have some secrets that they hold,

Like the sheer size of a buck and the playfulness of crows

Squirrel territoriality and the bills of seagulls’ rings

Easy to glimpse but hard-to-notice things

Though toned-down, the wild still hangs on

In dense and populated spaces

You just have to look a little closer in unexpected places

For urban wildlife and the message that it brings –

There’s wonder even in these little things


Voices of the Heavens

By 13 year old Becky and her friend/tutor, 64 year old Elynn –
a whimsical Sense of Wonder essay about stars.

Two earthlings fall asleep beneath the summer sky and dream of a conversation amongst the heavenly stars.

Papa Star—reading the Nebula Newspaper: It’s true! Humans aim to own us and name us! Waltz into our galaxy, and claim us as their own!

An earthling company, Stardust Registry, is selling us stars for prepostarous profit. As if a piece of parchment paper proves a person owns us! These humans are not the shiniest stars in the sky.

Mama Star—whispering whimsically: Good Heavens!

Little Star—skips inside, smiling: Guess what I learned at school today?  Human nature is filled with love and other stuff.

Mama Star:  That is startacular!  What other stuff?

Little Star: I learned how earthlings are selfish, too. Some people try to sell us.

Mama Star: Remember, humans are also our kindred spirits. The words of Henry David Thoreau: Stars are jewels of the night.

Papa Star: Yes! Don’t forget how Van Gogh created Starry Night. His imagination soared as he gazed upon our starlit sky.

Say, I’ve a dazzling idea. Let’s quiet this “noise” from Earth – this so-called Stardust Registry Company.

Mama Star: We will guide Mr. Entrepreneur to a path of kindness and generosity.

Papa Star: Let’s gather the magical glitter. And just like Robin Goodfellow from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we will sprinkle it into the eyes of each and every earthling. From that point onward, humans will cherish us in the heavens above. It will be written in the stars:

Proclamation from the Heavens:

The stars hereby declare

From here to eternity, we are not for sale!

You may wish upon a star

Wherever you are.

We shall hold your dreams

In the highest esteem.

Mama Star—with jubilation: Once the earthlings see the light, we will ring Brother Mountain, Sister Sea, Cousin Cloud, Father Tree, and a multitude of galaxies. As we celebrate the majesty of Mother Nature and the promise of humankind.

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