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Jennifer Ettinger
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Nature's Role
Jessica Bullock, Division 2, 11th grade #ws17e-s3d2

Beautiful and ghastly. Benefactor and villain. Majestic and fragile. Under different circumstances, it might seem as though I was describing a duplicitous human. And yet, I see this behavior exhibited everyday in the “great outdoors”, so to speak. I see it in summer lightning storms, in my mother’s garden, in the most recent story of a natural disaster, and I see it in the rain that dots my face as I walk to my parents’ car. It is incredible, constant and unpredictable at the same time, and it has served me in several ways throughout my life.

For example, the snowy days of winter are a welcome respite from the constant, albeit trivial stresses that come with life as a high-school student. On these days, the gentle white snowflakes blanket the landscape, providing a blank canvas for me to build snowmen, make snow angels, or simply walk through, enjoying nature’s silent beauty. Venturing into the snow is always enjoyable, but the average winter days also have merit. On those days, all you can see is brown grass and bare trees as you endure the ever-biting wind whipping around your face, but in spite of these things, I can appreciate the winter season. The old leaves and flowers and crawling things depart for a while to make room for brand new creatures the following spring. It reminds me that no matter how dire the circumstances, all can be swept clean and restarted and nurtured into rebirth.

However, there is another aspect of this rebirth, one far less savory. In the spring and summer months, the conditions can be so contrary that one may feel as though they are being toyed with, strung along unwillingly by capricious weather and pollens innumerable. Sometimes, I feel a bit helpless in the face of something so far beyond me. In spite of this, there are occasions when my feelings of helplessness transform into awe. Awe at a magnificent lightning storm that arcs across the sky and vanquishes the darkness. Awe at the resounding peals of thunder that follow. Awe at every torrential downpour, tornado, hurricane and earthquake that dissolves into a sunny day. Awe at just how insignificant we humans are in the face of such power. Though these examples of nature’s might are often devastating, acts of nature do not always have to be earth-shattering in order to be awe-inspiring; sometimes the mundane things are the most truly fantastic.

Take for example, the humble spiderweb. Intricate and ensnaring, it is made to capture unsuspecting prey for its ravenous host quickly and easily, and it is strong enough to withstand the weight of the host and its catch. It can also resist whatever stray breeze may flow through its path, and yet it is still fragile enough to be knocked away with the brush of a child’s hand. These diametrically opposed properties alone are incredible to me. It’s an example of such transient beauty that has both persisted and functioned for centuries, in spite of its obvious limitations. This persistence is by far the most important aspect of this seemingly insignificant component of nature; in spite of its fragility, in spite of its lack of presence, this little element plays an important role in the grand scheme of things, performing its task without any fuss or bid for recognition.

Other elements, however, are so astounding that it’s nearly impossible not to recognize them. Case in point: the solar eclipse generated a huge fuss, keeping many children in my school district at home and itching with excitement. My sister and I were no different. Using the eclipse glasses given to us by our school, we stared in awe at the disappearing sun and the darkening surroundings. First, only a sliver of the Sun was obscured. Then, a quarter. A half. Eventually, only a sliver of the Sun remained. Then, totality was upon us. We rushed outside, and my mother called from work as she gazed upwards from a parking lot a few miles away, just as excited as my sister and I to be witnessing such a historic event.

1:27 PM, central time. It was quite cloudy-would we even have a good view? 1:28. Oh, if only that cloud would scoot over an inch… Finally, 1:29. The clouds parted. We took off our glasses and stared straight up into the darkened sky. And it was glorious. It wasn’t especially dark, but it was enough to provide a stark contrast between the background and the corona that flashed around the black expanse of the moon like a halo of light. For around 50 seconds, I could not have been happier. This feeling of euphoria did not fade once the totality period had passed, but I felt strangely empty; almost immediately afterwards, the world began to brighten as though nothing ever happened.

Through this event, the theme of transience and significance was once again displayed. Although, I viewed the matter as less of a display of virtue and more of a warning: because things of beauty will often pass away, one should fully appreciate them while they are around to be enjoyed. The total eclipse lasted for less than a minute, but I will remember it fondly for a lifetime.

For me, that is the beauty of nature: though it assumes specific forms, many of the principles found in and derived from it can be applied to our daily lives. I’ve often personified the stubborn weed or the unexpected summer shower with human virtues; stared in wonder or awe at a welcome snowfall; delighted in the remarkable sight of a lightning storm; and felt a simple, pure joy at the sight of a clear blue sky. Nature, that fickle, constant agent of emotions and examples of universal truths, manifests itself in a multitude of forms- far more than I could possibly elaborate on. However, this I know: it will never cease to amaze me.
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