Enjoy a personal narrative written by Ryan Barnicle, one of the US student participants coming to CEI 2021.
I wanted to be productive and g et some stuff done, that way I would have the next three
days off to relax. Instead, I couldn’t think clearly and ended up wasting two hours on a physics lab that was due next week. I also felt like I couldn't breathe and my heart rate increased. That’s when I realized...the air was stale.
The room I was working in had no scent. There w as no smell of trees, no fresh breath,
and no whispers of the wind to be heard. It was just the blowing of a constant, unchanging,
lifeless A /C register and the taste of dried, unmoving air which parched my throat. I decided I wanted a different taste in my lungs and one that would have life, but the rest of the house was the exact same. So, I went outside and stayed in my backyard on a brisk and windy October afternoon; only passing cars and the echo of the wind was heard. To many the wind speaking is just a personification, but a few know the truth. The wind speaks a language most people don’t understand. Often people just hear the sounds of air moving and the raucous it composes with the leaves, although I now understand exactly what they tried to tell me. To learn the language and this secret just takes...time…time and patience to sit still and only listen…. The mood was calm and it was getting close to dusk. I saw the pink and red reflections of the sun’s rays in the distance; I knew they would slowly diminish as the minutes walked by. I walked towards the corner of my house and saw the dying garden. Once it had flourished with life; the plants were growing beyond the chicken wire that attempted to contain them. The garden had previously produced: Handfuls of tomatoes from just one plant, and the hope of future tomatoes from the two other infant plants. Three small disappointing watermelons that a single hand could hold, which were small because a mildew killed the vines. About ten massive cucumbers that were the
length of a watermelon and as thick as a baseball bat, which had an influence so grand that they began to climb the support sticks of the tomato plants. lots of mint plants which always grow more efficiently than weeds. Lastly, a thick and glorious zucchini plant which was worthy of its own legend because it yielded bigger produce than the cucumbers. Each day I had to spend hours o n watering the plants and flowers of my backyard, and the garden took the longest by far. That w as during summer though, when I didn’t have to worry about AP classes, school, college applications, or an evolving pandemic; I could take my time enjoying the heat, the life of the plants, and the salvation provided by the sun’s rays. I looked disappointingly at the garden. It was decomposing as the chloroplasts were being destroyed one by one, with the coldness increasing each second and the loss of sunlight. The chicken wire around the garden was still up, making the scene seem even more despairing and death ridden. It was as if a few of my hopes and dreams died with the garden. Such despondency made me recall an event from earlier in the
week, and I began to contemplate.
I stood watching the garden for a second and began to think deeply as I slowly dropped
my head towards the grass, and I reflected upon a past event of the week. That Wednesday I was outside for an hour and thirty minutes on LT’s football field because band class required me to go to marching band practice. Thursday night I talked with a friend about how I enjoyed the rehearsal despite being in forty degree weather. But in a w ay, I told them I was perplexed because it was as if I relished being cold. If hypothermia didn’t exist, I would have wanted to stay outside for a few more hours, suffering on purpose. It was then, standing in my backyard that I realized why I savoured the cold. The chillier I got meant the more air I received. The air’s frigidness and freshness revived my spirit and my lungs. The air was worth the freezing of my hands, my running nose, and the loss of warmth every time I played my instrument. I enjoyed smelling the gift of life, the scent of trees, the sensation of nature, and the crispness of the cold with every breath. For months I had been in my home living securely, comfortably, and with warmth. However I preferred the removal of all these insurances; I found it exciting and the loss made me reminiscent of camping trips and times before the pandemic.
I began to recede from pondering on Wednesday’s event, and I noticed I was still
standing, looking down at the grass unintentionally. I suddenly had an undeniable urge to sit down; I wanted to be reminded of nature’s touch by feeling the grass. I hesitated because I hadn’t felt the grass in months. I had walked on it, felt its supportive cushion and wetness through my shoes, but to actually touch it with my own skin…. Another question a rose. I knew I could sit down but why should I? I clearly remembered soccer and the countless times I had been thrust against the ground, the abrasions on my skin, the occasional bleeding, and the feelings of pain. In a way these memories haunted me because I have not felt such physical pain for over half a year. I had to consciously force myself to sit; I remembered my former strength to sit down during soccer practice. If I could sit on the ground a year ago, I could sit on it now. I also convinced myself I wouldn’t get hurt because I wasn’t performing any strenuous physical exertion, just lounging on the grass. So I softly collapsed and the little green, vibrant blades greeted me. It had been at least four months since I had touched those little tiny friends of mine, and the ground which they are home to. It was an immediate feeling of relief and joy with the
tactility of life. I felt like I had just watched one of those environmental documentaries that
makes you sad about an animal, but then they cheer you up by saying something motivational at the end. I rejoiced with every stroke of the cells and texture of the rabbit’s food, and the occasional tiny, dark green smiles they gave me. On the other hand, the dirt felt immovable and honest; like a reassuring friend who is there for you both in the easy and hard times, or something that at the end of the day you can always come to if you want to relax. Despite my scepticism, the ground didn’t hurt me; the Earth intended to be firm, not harsh. The dirt was there to support me and supply life. This was one of the most satisfying moments in my entire life, and yes more satisfying than those ten minute, “extremely satisfying” YouTube videos. If I had the option, I would have set up a tent and slept outside for the night. The firmness of the ground would be my mattress, and the birds’ songs would be my alarm clock.
It was starting to get dark and cold now, despite my layers. Lights outside of houses were
being turned on and the bright rays of the s un were going to bed, being tucked in by the sheets of darkness. It had been forty minutes since I stepped outside; I thought it was time to return inside. As I strolled away, the wind was still dancing with the trees and the last of the sun’s pink rays were barely visible on the horizon. I went inside and noticed my spiritual and physical revival; the manifest distinctions between the environments of my backyard and my house. After spending so many months inside and looking at a computer screen for at least four hours a day, I needed only one long period of reflection for me to meticulously perceive such details. Anyways, I then decided to take a warm shower because it was about fifty degrees outside. I can testify that one of the greatest feelings in the world is being in the cold and then taking a hot shower; I’ve had many experiences of playing soccer, camping, and hiking in weather that was colder than forty degrees. The feeling of being stripped of life’s securities, and suffering without those comforts, makes a person extremely grateful and joyful once they are returned. I definitely enjoyed the transfer of warmth with every water droplet. This time the feeling was intensified as I have rarely experienced the cold these past couple of months. The shower was probably a little
too warm, as I intended it to be, as the entire bathroom was misty afterwards; the bathroom air was moist and filled with the excitement of water molecules. Certainly, this bathroom air was more enjoyable and pure than the air of the house.
Not thinking about the shower much further, I went to my bedroom and texted the same
friend about my experience. I told them I now loved the grass and dirt more than ever before; of course they had no clue what I meant...eventually they will. Like the garden, the grass, and the dirt, I forgot the true value of some of the most basic, ordinary, and fundamental things about this planet and life itself. The coldness of Wednesday’s practice, the steam from the shower, and the windy, cool air of the October afternoon all had something in common. They all contained changes in the atmospheres of my environment, and the garden, grass, and dirt are directly related to these atmospheres. It wasn’t until I had lived in the stale, dry, predictable, stricken air
of my house for ( a majority of) the past several months that I realized the true value of nature and the hardships and beauty that come with its breath. Now...everytime I step outside I will think of my tiny green partners, and how they supply me with the most delicious air in life.