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Phillip Kunder

Caesar Rodney High School

“Cross-Continental love”

  Growing up I have always had a passion and a soft spot for nature. Whether it was the different plants, animals, or even the dirt and rocks that helped shape the ecosystem, I always could find something there that just caught my eye and amazed me. I’ve lived in and explored different environments throughout my life, so the geography and the biodiversity of these places always changed.

           In the early years of my life, I was born and raised in Wagga Wagga Australia. I also lived in Brisbane. The climate and geography in Australia are a little bit different than here in Delaware. Australia has many cool species of animals that Delaware does not, such as kangaroos, which we would see every now and then, kind of like how we see whitetail deer in the soybean fields, cockatoos and magpies in the trees and on the power lines, dingos chasing the little critters, and the koalas up in the eucalyptus trees. There are also many different plant species such as palm, wild mango, and eucalyptus trees which can all grow there due to the subtropical climate. At our house, my Mom had a vegetable garden that I would always help out in. I remember when my class at school had started radishes from seed and when we were able to bring them home, the first thing I did was plant mine in the garden. I loved our red currant tomato plant that had lived two whole years before we had moved to Delaware. It had about a hundred tiny cherry tomatoes on it that I loved to snack on. We even had a banana tree that my family had planted together that started to produce the year before we moved. I also used to love climbing the trees whenever we would go to the park or during my recess at school. Overall, I had a strong passion and deep sense of connection with the forms of nature in Australia.

         May of 2015. All of our suitcases were packed and our other personal belongings were in a shipping container being shipped to Delaware. We were boarding a huge Qantas commercial airplane. I had tears in my eyes because little me was thinking that I would never see Australia and all of its wonders and my friends ever again. The most confusing thing to me about when we landed at JFK airport was how the time was pushed backward by about half a day and it was nighttime again, however in Australia I would just now be getting started with my day. My Poppop had picked us up from the airport and drove us to his house in the countryside of Camden, Delaware. It was a whole new environment to me like when a salmon makes its yearly migration to the ocean, only without the danger of bears and eagles swooping at you. I had been used to living in a neighborhood but now I was living on about 200 acres of farm and woodland. I was really happy when I got to work in my Poppop’s garden pulling weeds and tending to the plants and eating the veggies. In the morning I already knew it was time to explore the property, find all the cool plants and animals, and of course, find all the trees that were good for climbing and which ones I could potentially put a swing on. I had found one right by the house that I could almost reach the top, a 25-foot-tall maple tree, and was pretty devastated after it had to be cut down because I had loved the tree. I also loved four-wheeler rides through the woods with my Poppop. I loved looking for all the biggest trees and any deer I could spot. 

        Eventually, we moved out of my Poppop’s farm and into a townhouse in Magnolia where my favorite thing was the willow tree, magnolia tree, and especially the third tree which we called the “monkey apple tree”, which I now know was an osage orange tree. This was when my bug obsession began. I would catch all kinds of bugs and put them in containers, especially fireflies and the huge millipedes. I was lucky enough to have an insect unit in science at school and I ended up excelling in that. Down the road and after a right turn was a wetland with a pole standing alone in the middle of it. Whenever we drove by we could always see the blue herons and egrets. They had fascinated me with their long legs that don’t sink in the mud and their long beaks and lightning-fast reflexes for catching minnows and frogs, but the thing that I loved and wanted to get close to and observe was the osprey’s nest on the top of the pole. And just when I thought that we were done moving, we packed our bags and headed off again after just a year. That’s when we moved to our permanent home, our new farm.

             Our farm, I believe, really sparked my connection with nature to its peak. We have two main ponds, each full of fish, turtles, and frogs. We had catfish, largemouth and striped bass, bluegill, koi, and painted and snapping turtles. My favorite animal to go and discover how many species I could find were the frogs. And as I’m sure you could imagine, a little second-grade boy would most certainly love to go catch frogs despite what their parents said about getting warts from them. So that is exactly what I did. I never believed the wart myth anyway. We had large and small leopard frogs, green frogs, spring peepers, tree frogs, bullfrogs, and of course, the common toad. My favorite was the bullfrogs. They were always a trophy to me whenever I caught them. We also have lots of rabbits running wild on our farm. Even now, at fifteen years old, I still go out and try to catch the babies after they go out to take care of themselves and pet them. My favorite bunny story was about my bunny Diamond. One day, I was mowing on the zero-turn when all of a sudden I saw a little tan creature run a couple feet. I stopped the mower and went up to him and he didn’t run so I picked him up. I pet him for a good half hour and then lay down in the grass next to him and he just stayed close to me, not scared at all. Ever since then, now that he is huge and all grown up, I can still get close but he won’t quite let me pick him up. So whenever I see a baby rabbit I make it a habit to catch them and bond with them and let them stay wild.

      Overall I’d say my favorite thing about the farm was all the gigantic trees. We had some by the house that were over 3-4 feet in diameter. I loved to Identify the kinds of trees and prune their dead branches to keep them healthy and beautiful. In my second year living here, I learned about the rapid decline of honeybees and decided to make my own flower garden to help them. The garden helped a lot because this year I observed an increase in bee and braconid wasp population. I even observe what flowers they like the most, such as yarrow and sunflowers, and in future years will plant more of them. About a month or two ago I saw a brochure on bee boxes and now I am gathering supplies to make a few of them to help the native bees have a safe home. This year I planted pumpkins and watermelons to see how the bees enjoy the big yellow flowers and it was a huge success, resulting in about 40 watermelons from a few plants and three pumpkins. By planting native flowers that the bees enjoy, you can help the bees get the right pollen they need to help them make a comeback. Just last week I planted peach trees so that we can grow our own fruit. Later this spring, I hope to establish a small fruit tree orchard.

       After I graduate from college I plan on buying a large, fertile property that I can try to help the native species of animals thrive and increase in population. I hope that I can help inspire my children and their children about the importance of nature in our lives and in our own happiness. I hope that we as humans of all different ages can help save our Earth’s flora and fauna and provide a safer environment for future generations. Even by taking those smaller steps, such as picking up trash along roads and highways, to cleaning the local beaches, anyone can save our planet. I believe that we, the people of Delaware, can make a difference to protect our nature and help all living things thrive. 

(Left) My monarch caterpillar Munchie

(Right) “Butthole tree” My friends love him

(Left) The coolest flower I have ever grown

(Right) More saplings for me to plant at home

(Left) A catfish from my pond

(Right) A baby turtle we found on our driveway

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