A Whole New World
Melody DeBlasio, Division 2, 11th grade #ws17e-s3d2

The air is warm and heavy, cloaking me in a thin layer of sweat that soon turns into many tiny rivers. My bare feet throw up pockets of loose dirt that cascade onto the perpetual layer of dead leaves covering the ground around the trail. I pick up speed, leaping over pricker bushes and digging into corners with a practiced air I’ve spent many summers developing. My calloused feet grind into rocks with tremendous force, but I hardly notice as I whip through low-hanging branches and over fallen trunks. Eventually I slow to a stop, my heart pounding and breath whooshing out forcefully as I lean on my knees for a second of much-needed rest. Slowly, and with palpable excitement, I look up at the place where I have arrived.

The tree is massive, and stands before my tiny body stoically and powerfully. Its leaves are wide, some the size of my face. They hang silently in the dead air, providing cool shade to take the edge off of the humid summer day. A smaller branch leans against the tree at a 45 degree angle, creating the perfect inclined plane to reach a comfortable crook in the branches. It’s appealing, but I ignore it for the moment. The thing that has motivated my hot, intense run through the forest is laying right in front of me, and in that second I cannot be distracted by anything else. The gargantuan branch, which fell in the most recent thunderstorm, crosses my meticulously maintained path at a right angle any mathematician would marvel at. I take a big breath, inhaling the sweet smell of sweat, decay, and new life, and drop to my knees.

I lower my face parallel to the ground, and gaze upon a whole new world. There is a small gap between the place where the packed soil ends and the fallen branch begins. Rays of afternoon light shine into my line of sight from the opposite side of the branch, illuminating with incredible detail the busy city already up and running inside this haphazardly created haven. My eyes dart around the scene furiously; anything and everything is worthy of my keen observation.

I gaze with intrigue as an ant drags a severed leaf across a twig, seeming to defy physics and logic simultaneously. He hurries despite the load he drags behind him, rushing off to some new and exciting adventure with haste. Tiny roly-poly bugs scurry in and out of sight, using dead leaves as cover, and I try without success to predict where each one is going to reappear. At one point one almost runs into a lumbering beetle, and I feel myself start even though the collision is narrowly avoided by the tiny creatures. Off in the corner, a tiny colony of mushrooms has sprung up in a patch of rotted wood. They reach down towards the ground like trapeze artists hanging from their ankles, and I marvel at their bright orange brilliance. I laugh as an earthworm drops from his comfortable perch on a twig and just keeps moving along, as if he didn’t even notice his death-defying fall in the slightest, and extend my finger for him to move over with the same unperturbed air. I watch this drama of biology, chemistry, math, and physics unfold as if it were a soap opera, naming characters and mentally recording all of the questions I will type into a search engine when I get home. How do ants carry large objects? How fast can a beetle move? How does an earthworm hang upside-down? Why do mushrooms prefer rotted wood? With every passing minute my fascination only grows.

I don’t run through forests as much as I used to, but my curiosity for a deeper understanding of the world has risen to new, exciting heights. The wonders I discovered beneath that fallen tree branch introduced me to the subjects I now refer to casually as STEM fields. When I was an eager ten-year-old, I didn’t know the math behind why that branch supported my weight, or why the smaller one I experimented with sent me crashing to the ground. I didn’t realize that those camouflaging dead leaves turned color and died because of complex chemical processes, or that the reason ants can lift so much is because of their size, not in spite of it. I didn’t know about symbiotic relationships, natural selection, or the differences between plant and animal cells. I would eventually discover all of these things, however, due to the raw curiosity and sense of wonder that were instilled in me at such a young age by the natural world I explored in. Today you may not find me kneeling in the dirt, but I still spend every waking moment asking questions and learning everything I can about the fields of science and math. Nature has played an enormous role in my life. It has fostered my love of the natural world and my desire to pursue a career in the biological sciences. Even now, it continues to shape and mold me into a determined, inquisitive woman who, at the end of the day, isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty.
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