I used to love going on trips with my friends when I was younger. Staying at home and doing the same old tasks was always tedious, and I yearned for an opportunity to get out of the house and do something different. Unfortunately, those chances were few and far between. I depended on my school to plan trips for me. The zoo, the beach, and the lake all appealed to me. Fortunately, my classmates loved going out as much as I did. We would place pressure on our instructor to plan a trip every now and then. We had no idea at the time that such trips needed to be approved by the school principal. In fact, whenever the teacher told us we were not going for a trip, we believed it was her who made that decision. However, there was one trip that had been a tradition in the school. Everyone looked forward to this trip that had for a long time been the climax of our school. For over three decades, the school granted finalists an opportunity to go for a trip to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Students ahead of us told us a lot of stories about this phenomenon. No one had ever had enough of the place, and everyone you talked to wanted to go back and relive the experience.
Few months into my final year in school, I was looking forward to this trip. The school administration has already communicated the planned trip to our parents. A small fee was supposed to paid and I made sure my dad was among the first to pay. Days came and went and before we knew it, the day was here. It was 19th November 2015, the day we had all been waiting for. As usual, I woke up early and did the routine. Finally, I went to the living room where I had breakfast with my parents before they said a prayer for me and wished me good luck. I left the house hurriedly to catch the bus. At school where we to meet, I found almost everyone ready. We had big bags that carried our belongings and tents. We would travel to the Gifford Pinchot by bus, something that even the trip more memorable. I could not wait to see the scenery as we cruised to our destination. Once the hired bus arrived, we jumped in and our luggage packed inside the boots, and we were set to go. Just as expected, the departure time was 9.00 a.m., and the driver did not hesitate to step on the gas. The journey would take almost the whole day, so we had our tents for the night. Throughout the journey, I was felt I was not engaged as such with my classmates. I sat next to the window and focused on the trees and vegetation we left behind. We made several stocks to freshen up and bite our snacks before we continued our journey.
Eight hours later, we had reached our destination. I was woken up by the cold that suddenly hijacked the bus. The teacher told us to put on our jackets and sweaters and brace ourselves for a cold night. We finally alighted from the bus with the first task being to pitch our tent. While we did this, the forest rangers brought us firewood and lighted a fire. Finally, we had a source of warmth. The place was so different from the city. The night was darker compared to the city. I guess the canopy of trees must have made it even darker. The thick forest made it even impossible for light from the moon and stars to penetrate. Well, this was a new experience. Looking up, there was no sky, on leaves that moved in all directions depending on the wind. Around me, I could hear all sorts of noises that I fail to notice during the day but at night are magnified. I was with my best friend, Erick roasting marshmallows and telling creepy stories. For a moment, I was afraid of the chirping and croaking frogs, the deep ones and those that make whizzing whirling sounds that get louder then suddenly stop leaving behind sudden silence. Before I could react, chirping crickets of different types got louder, and I could hear them from all directions. From a distance, I could hear a howling. What could that be? A coyote? A wolf? I wondered what was out there in the deep forest.
It is at this moment that I made my connection with nature. Yes, this is all I needed. For a moment, the fear suddenly went away, and I began to appreciate nature. Here, there were no struggles that we were accustomed to in the city. There were no ambulance sirens rushing a sick person to hospital. There was no pollution, both land, and air. The air was fresh, and for a moment, I felt like I had never had a breath of fresh air all my life. This is how life should be lived. Life should be quite and free from all the pollution that human beings had brought to the world. I no longer feared anything in the forest. I looked forward to the next day. I wanted to explore this land and enjoy its serenity. The environment was what life was supposed to be. There was no litter, no smoke, no noise from cars or people. The place was so natural. What had human beings done to the land? I could not believe the beauty of nature. From that point, I knew that I wanted to be a friend of nature because nature was a friend to everyone. Unfortunately, human beings had been unfair to nature. They had cut down trees unnecessarily and polluted the rivers. As the night grew older, the cracking fire covered us from the cold. I did not go to sleep just like my friends. We went to a high point in the forest from where we could watch the sky. It was unusually expansive, with stars winking at us endlessly. We waited for the shooting stars, and when they came, we could not hide our delight. The furthest stars were like flashing pinpricks in the darkness. They were so small yet so full of life. The moon, on the other hand, was rather lonely. However, its dominance and fluorescence could not be hidden behind the clouds. Its light was intimidating as it hit the land and us underneath. I wondered whether the moon I often saw back at home was similar to the one that was above me. I did not want to fall asleep, but fatigue got the better of me.
The next morning, we were woken up by a dog or real wolf howls. Once I got out of the tent, I was amazed at my surrounding. It was green except for the back of the trees that were dark. The air was fresh and the soil fertile. Further away, I could see a dear busy eating grass but keeping an eye on us in case we came anywhere closer. One of the rangers informed us that there was a stream of water where we could wash up. He took the lead as we followed and to my surprise, the water in the stream was clean. The ranger told us that they take the water without treating it. All my life I had only seen polluted rivers where people dumped waste without any consideration for the environment or others. Bending down to have a feel of the water in the stream, all I could see is a blue-stream that wound its way through the forest. It was dribbling and seeping through the trees, and it sprung over the huge rocks on its way down. Pebbles underneath the water washed like pieces of glitter. Just next to the stream were hedgerows with ripe berries. I loved berries so I could not resist plucking some. They were fruity and last to my tongue that I had to go for more. Once I had enough of them, I looked around just to realize that no one was watching. Only the fluttering butterflies were drifting lazily enjoying the morning sun. I bent down do drink from the bubbling stream. The water was stimulating as it passed my throat and into my system. I did not want to stop but my stomach could not take it all. Standing up, I felt the powerful aroma of the forest. I felt energized and ready to face the day. Soon after filling our stomachs, everyone grabbed their day pack that was majorly filled with pocket knives, binoculars, cameras, water bottles, and umbrellas.
At 10.00 a.m., we were on our way. The path was crisscrossed with planks and logs. We walked slowly and occasionally stopped to scan the forest for animals and birds. The forest in the morning was cool and damp. The sun was too low for warmth, and I could hear songs from birds coming from all directions. All of sudden, the bushes next to us rustled, and everyone jumped in fear. A coati then appeared, and everyone felt relieved we reached for our cameras to catch a glimpse of its before it disappeared into the bushes. We continued traversing the forest and a short while later, we came to the end of the reserve. Ahead of everyone was a spectacular waterfall pouring into a green canyon. An undisturbed and unbroken forest lay ahead. It was not getting late, and we had to head back to the camp. As we walked, we stepped on aunts that were returning home from their ‘busy’ schedule. The air was warmer, and my shirt was covered in perspirations. I got into deep thought, reflecting just how beautiful nature was. In my mind, I wanted to come here again. I wanted a place such as this that was far from the troubles of the modern world. I had a connection with such natural places that were free from human interference. From that day, I resorted to becoming an environmentalist. I wanted to be at the forefront in protecting the environment from destruction and other human activities. The next day, we traveled back to the city. The place had made me realize just how beautiful nature can be and the extent to which human beings destroy it.
Looking back at that trip and particularly the trip to the forest, I realize just how much efforts we need to put in to preserve the environment. It is in that forest that I developed a connection with nature and vowed to be part of the movement to protect the environment. Whenever I see a place that is polluted, I think of that place. I think about that environment without any garbage or form of pollution. I take a lot of responsibility for the environment by engaging in community organizations whose aim is to clean and preserve the environment. On environmental day, I ensure that all my neighbors engage in cleaning the environment. I have also gone ahead to enroll in environmental online classes. Through the classes, I have gained knowledge that has helped me understand issue related to nature and the environment. Ignorance has been the major challenge that has affected nature. Hence, I encourage people to have a connection to nature to see its benefits to human kind.