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Dylan A. DeMoe

Smyrna High School, 11th grade

2024 RENEW essay contest Honorable Mention

Life, Love and My First Experiences with Death


         As I recollect my childhood, and come closer to the end of mine, I find that my younger self was consistently obsessed with plants. As my family re-mulched just in time for spring, little me was elated to see a new batch of flowers and shrubs to be out-cropped throughout my yard. As they began laying down that trusty landscaping fabric for weeds that never seem to work, (I cannot stress this enough I’ve spent many days picking weeds that have somehow quantum-leaped through that stuff) the hope and cheer I got from seeing something grow from day to day was immeasurable. Some of the very first pictures on my first phone were of plants: whether that be of the mighty elephant ear (of the Colocasia genus) or of just random species that capture my attention while walking on a trail. Something inside me, in some way, had an intrinsic affinity for plants and that is why I think my favorite color is green, and that is why I was devastated to not see that majestic elephant ear burst through the soil like it was supposed to. It was a perennial, it was there last year and every year prior since sow date, why not this year? I wondered what went wrong.

        I am currently in my “plant dad” era as one of my friends had put it. In which I spend a considerable and admittedly concerning amount of time attending to my plants. I had only recently started full-on gardening. Last summer was a great introduction, but I had only planted in pots so that experience left me desiring more. And in my eyes, to truly earn the title of “plant dad” I told myself I must go further. By further I meant prepping for the upcoming season by propagating the majority of my plants: meaning getting cuttings from my tomatoes, basil, sage, oregano, snapdragons, etc. I wanted to start the season running! However, little did I know how hard it is to simulate the environment in which these plants thrive. And one thing many don’t realize is that what outside offers is more than just the sun and warmth and water and nutrients: it’s balance. The sun provides the energy in which plants use to make their food, pests such as aphids or mites leach that production and also provide food for insect predators like ladybugs. This cycle grows and goes on indefinitely and I’m glad I know this now, but I was not so knowledgeable as a little kid. 

             I still remember my confusion, shock, that went over my body. Seeing the leafless, brown and brittle stem of a once flower so beautiful that it single handedly sparked my interest in gardening to become so lifeless, so stagnant, it truly hurt. I felt like I had failed on the greatest scale. Something within my domain, control, died. I didn’t know that this particular species of flower doesn’t live more than a year. I thought the flower would last forever or at least I wanted it to. I didn’t have the knowledge that an ending was inevitable as a child. To this day my favorite flower is the marigold and I don’t think that will change; it’s great for pollinators and acts as a natural repellent to a plethora of pests. Not to mention the many cultivars that display beautiful oranges and yellows. In all, looking back that would have to be my first experiences with death. It may be silly, but I formed a connection with that flower. The total hours I spent just watching it by my windowsill and waking up to see the little changes in growth was the first time I felt responsible. Even though that flower is no longer with me I am glad that I got the chance to see it grow. Seeing that lifeless husk of a plant resting on my outdoor table was integral to my character and of the person I am today.


  I am lucky enough to not have experienced familial death in my close family ever, but I have in my extended family. It was when I was much younger and it is only a distant memory, before I truly ever felt the weight of forever. That day, however, was the start of the realization that once things stop working, die, they do not come back. 

 Disregarding my personal encounters, such as my plants or of loved ones, I’ve never truly tackled the concept of a thing ending, indefinitely. To this day, I tend to not finish enjoyable media because I don’t know what I’ll do when it’s over. And yes, you can always rewatch, but it’ll never be the same. I believe it is because of my aversion to conclusions that the idea of extinction horrifies me. Of course some species must go as of natural selection, but to be more specific human-caused extinction was always an infuriating topic for me; and the statistics of human-caused extinction don’t make it better: for example, in this article produced by, they note the correlation between human activity and extinction rates. It was stated by Havard Biologist E.O Wilson that around 30,000 species go extinct per year whereas the normal background rate is one extinction per million species per year. Extinction rates of this extent are the result of rapid population growth and greed. And the only remedy is the push for more sustainable practices not only in agriculture, but in how we consume and discard what we so readily need. But of course it is not that simple.

         Human-caused extinction seems simple and seems easier to fix. But I’d like to argue, somewhat reluctantly, that it is our nature as humans to overtake and conquer. To control, out of fear, the unknown. And now that we are in control we don’t know as a collective how to live within and along nature. But don’t fear! Solutions exist.


         Now that it’s evident there’s a problem with the way in which we, as a race, are running things and you now know a little bit more of the exigency of the situation and how it relates to me, I will now attempt to lighten the mood with some of the steps we can take to decrease our unsustainable practices and slow the adverse effects many ecological systems on the planet are facing. The cycles that replenish each other, (and us) that were in harmonious competition with one another are being disrupted, effectively deing. We are doing that disruption. And we should be worried since we depend on those many cycles we are abusing. From food to cosmetics we need to ensure that we take as much as we put in. This could be done with (1), the reworking of the agricultural industry; (2), the legislative enforcement on carbon related companies and; (3), the reconstruction of how we manage our waste. This is a big task and it must be done on a global scale to have any real effects, but those steps are crucial if we want to see any change in the foreseeable future. 

  As previously stated, I have a deep connection to plants. This inevitably led me to farming and gardening and how historically we don’t know how to do that, for the most part, without damaging the environment. This is seen in the dust bowl in 1930s North America, where unsustainable farming practices led to years of dust storms. In my vision of a reworked agricultural industry, we must invest in education of the crops and soil so we could live in harmony with them. As well as better distribution to people in need. As a humanitarian effort so we can decrease food waste. To continue, legislative action is a must. No company will change if there is no economic benefit for them and we need laws in place to ban the damage they are selling for our trade. This is already in action in Delaware with the ban on plastic bags in grocery stores, but a carbon tax is a great goal. This would force industries to find other ways to make a profit without putting the environment in detriment. Lastly, improvements in waste management would greatly benefit ecological recovery as we attempt to heal the damage that we have caused. This can be achieved through social and legislative restrictions on plastics and e-waste. The change I present will not fruit in my generation, since climate change was brought by multiple centuries of neglect. This effort is for the future. 

   The very first action we need to take is acknowledging that there is a problem and I think we did a pretty great job at that. There is hope and I’m hopeful that we’ll make a change for good

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