On Walking Barefoot
Julia Cordero, Division 2, 12th grade

The city park near my house is not particularly large, or clean, or peaceful. It does not have any wildflowers, dirt paths, or animals beyond the typical squirrel. And with all the police cars, baseball games, and summer camps running through it like they own the place, I’ll probably never have a moment of true solitude.

But the stretch of path I walk on when I first enter the park is lifted from a storybook. Pines, oaks, redwoods, and willows are planted along the sides and reach upwards to hold hands, creating a tunnel of cool air and near silence for the pedestrian. When I glance up, little peeks of pale blue pop out between prickly branches, with paintbrush strokes of cirrus clouds just above that. Illuminating it all is the lightpost casting a homey glow over the bases of the trees. If I’m lucky, the foot traffic is light and the glow feels like a hearth I could snuggle up to and listen to a story.

More often, though, the storybook quality of the path makes me wish I had a sword and dragon. I used to walk through that part of the park and pretend I was Lucy Pevensie, freshly discovering Narnia. Or Harry Potter in the Forbidden Forest. Or one of the von Trapp children on the hills in Austria. You name it, I pretended it. My sister and I would chase each other, laughing and heaving with breathlessness, with stick swords or leaf crowns. When we wove through the trees on either side and felt our sneakers skidding in the damp grass, we knew this was the ideal setting for adventure and daring-do.

But nowadays, I flop down in an empty patch of earth under a tree and try to press myself into the ground so deeply that blades of grass are taller than my nose. Surrounded by the dirt and its beetles, the sky and its sparrows, the rolling green and yellow of the landscape, I feel a wild primalness in my belly. I can be the first and only human ever made. Civilization? What’s that, and who cares? The only thing that matters is that I’m breathing and sinking down and getting absorbed into the earth and that at my core, I’m alive like every other creature. I stretch my limbs out wide; I want to touch every part of the world.

Without knowing these almost holy moments of safety, thrill, and resonance, I think I might be content to shop and chat and barbecue my way through existence. But I know what it feels like to have a secret handshake with nature; what childhood, or indeed adulthood, would be complete without splashes of adventure and deep contentment? I want to protect that wild belly feeling, for myself and for the generations after me, and so conservation of nature is my lifetime agenda.

Flick on the nightly news or glance through an environmentalist website, and there’s no end to to the discouragement; billions of trees are mowed down. Another twelve species are extinct. Hurricanes and extreme weather tear through neighborhoods like mercenaries. All I see is death of trees, death of animals, death of humans, and death of possibilities. I will never wonder at the colors of thousands of beetles, never climb up into the 3.5 billion trees cut each year, never share a Coke with the families dying in drought-stricken communities or know intimately their lives and personal culture. So many avenues to take, and so many are burning up. Destroying nature is destroying our chance at growth and global connection.

Since I was in middle school and first realized these implications, I’ve thrown myself into protecting nature. To avoid sending toxins into the San Francisco Bay, I make toothpaste and house cleaners with safe ingredients. To reduce the use of pesticides, I make my whole family eat organic food. To stop contributing to consumption of natural resources, I shop only at thrift stores. To stop dumping everything into landfills, I send every collectable material - granola bar wrappers, yogurt cups, LEGOs - to recycling nonprofits. When I began receiving college advertisements, I emailed each school back asking them to take me off the mailing list and stop deforestation. I read as many books (used or borrowed, of course) as I could on ecological activism, climate change, ethical consumerism, and the works. To this day, I’m known at school as the girl who takes everyone’s dead pens to be recycled.

Once I reach college, I intend to work environmentalism in some way into my major and career. Whether I pursue law, business, medicine, writing, or technology, I will use my career to give the planet its much-needed rest. I can choose to lobby Congress, research clean energy alternatives, advise corporations, build power-saving computers, write as ferociously as I know how, or simply take to the streets and yell and yell and yell until everyone wants to protect the feeling of twirling in a meadow as desperately as I want to.

And when I’m grown and married with children, I can’t wait to take my daughter by the hand to our city park and tell her to lie down, flat and pressed deep into the damp earth. We are going to feel savagely peaceful together. We are going to hold banana slugs and sorrel together and know that their survival is as celebrated as our own. We are going to never let a briefcase get between the dirt and us. She will wildly love cirrus clouds, those chalky spatterings in the sky, and the sparrows that fly through them, understanding that humans are no better than they are. Our carbon chains are like their carbon chains, and they’re the chains that hold all creatures together. I want to teach her, and all her siblings, and all the siblings of the human race, how badly they need to walk barefoot on the grass.

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