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Indira Manrakhan

Appoquinimink High School, 11th grade

Forests, Fantasy, and the Future 

Masses of speckled toadstools, blossoming trees, and ethereal cottages surround me. I breathe in slowly, basking in the sweet-smelling mist that surrounds the ground in which I sit. The haze forms rainbow-colored refractions that mimic the sky after a heavy rainstorm. This magic forest feels almost like a dream, however it is in fact a real place. The Enchanted Woods at Winterthur is perhaps the most otherworldly place in the very small, yet riveting, state of Delaware. I’ve only had the opportunity to stroll its grounds very few times in my life. However, each time I visit, I leave with memories that ruminate in my mind for weeks, or even years, after. 

Almost everyone has been asked the question—“What is something you remember from your childhood”—in their lifetimes. Whenever someone enquires me on this, I recall these experiences because they were pivotal moments in my connection with not only nature, but with myself. Nature breaks the shackles that imprison my mind; I can escape the adversities in my life through natural art, music, and photography. 

I assume that other teenagers have similar experiences about their own early connections with the natural world. Whether it be exploring a magic forest—like I had done—or climbing a childhood tree, many can relate to retaining impermeable memories of interacting with Mother Nature. However, this new age of social and technological advancement has begun to separate this harmonious relationship between the earth and human development. Studies conducted by top research institutions, including the WHO and NIH, have observed that nowadays, most children and adults are not being exposed to the outside world as frequently as past generations. “Why go out there when you can travel the world within the palm of your hand?” 

However, it’s not solely technology’s fault. The outbreak of Covid-19 also plays an important role in this recent shift. In 2020, international lockdowns reduced interactions among individuals, which then normalized isolative behavior. The pandemic caused people to avert away from the outside, due to fears that they would catch the disease through airborne pathogens. TikTok, Zoom, and other apps took the US by storm. So, when the lockdowns ceased, technology remained a persistent and widespread presence in many Americans’ lives. 

Along with the pandemic, pollution and climate change is also another substantial reason for this divide. Within the last two centuries, urbanization and industrialization in the United States has expanded at an exponential rate. The constant back-and-forth transfer of energy between the natural and the developed world has become too intense for the planet to sustain. Not even fifty years ago, the first commercially-used colorized televisions began production: and now, flying cars and genetic modification are already in humanity’s grasp. These breakthroughs, however, pose risks to not only human health, but also environmental health. Carbon, sulfur, and nitrogen concentrations from manufacturing facilities and vehicles are already at historically high levels in the Earth’s atmosphere and hydrosphere. This is driving more and more concerned parents to refrain from letting their kids play outside or explore. 1 in 4 adolescents in Los Angeles, California had developed lung lesions or defects in the early 2000’s; and it’s only gotten worse. 

The city of Wilmington, located in northern Delaware, is regarded to be the most polluted and low-income city in the state. Pollutants emitted from industrial plants often find their way into the city and garbage is scattered alongside the curbside. This is contradictory to the sereneness of the Enchanted Woods that I reminisced about earlier. So, what can we do to combat the decreasing number of environmentally aware adolescents? 

Firstly, organizing a more child-centric environment can be extremely beneficial for the community. Crafting legislation that allocates more federal funding for pollution regulations, playgrounds, and environmental education outside of the classroom are all ways children can become more interconnected with nature. Upon being informed of laws decreasing pollution, parents will likely become more lenient and willing to let their children venture outside their homes. Growing flower gardens or taking trips to local state parks are also a few of the many cost-efficient ways to introduce the beauty and significance of the environment to younger generations. Exposing children to nature and the issues surrounding it early on builds a higher likelihood of them wanting to protect it later in life, just like myself. At my own school, we have a flower garden that only contains plant species native to Delaware; including numerous species of coneflowers, milkweed, and cardinal flowers. It reminds me of the Enchanted Woods, however, I am currently more informed of its importance in my own community. Without the Enchanted Woods, I would likely not have been so protective of the world I’ve come to appreciate and adore. 

In the past, whenever I felt hopeless about the future of the Earth, I found myself escaping to my childhood and the Enchanted Woods. However, now I ask myself, “Why imagine it when it’s all around you?” I’ve recently come to discover that the “Enchanted Woods” are all around us. For something to be “enchanted,” it doesn’t necessarily have to be out-of-this-world. Instead, it can be much more than fairy cottages and magic mushrooms; it can be in that one ancient tree in your town or the small rose garden surrounding your home. Therefore, letting children grow up in the presence of nature ultimately widens their understanding of the world and its needs. As the English poet Williams Wordsworth phrases it, “Let Nature be your teacher.”

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