Note: Today’s essay and yesterday’s were penned this past week by 14 year-old Lena Heinrich, daughter of Rachel Smolker, co-Director of BiofuelWatch and Berndt Heinrich, noted naturalist. They are both insightful and inspiring. We hope you enjoy them.
–The GJEP Team
By Lena Heinrich
The first thing my dad said when I was born was that I looked like a raven, due to my black hair (he was studying them at the time); he seemed to get his kicks from placing my brother and I in baskets, then letting the ravens he was observing in our aviary dote over us.
My Dad is a simple, serious and focused man, who some might say isn’t quite caught up with society, still carrying a number of the values passed down to him through his parents and his experiences in life. Some of my fondest memories with my father are of catching insects to prepare for his collections, and watching him sit hunched over his boxes, carefully splaying the bugs wings and legs just so, pinning here and there, until they were perfectly displayed, like they might fly off the pin board any second. It was an art, and for a child, it was simply mesmerizing to be able to examine the different bugs up close, with their brittle limbs, fur and sometimes bright colors. He would point out which wing patterns were used for camouflage and the purpose for each of the insects unique anatomical features with glassy, immersed eyes and an unsaid sense of pride as I prodded him with questions about luna moths and larvae.
His study room was a dusty, forbidden, musk smelling wonderland of old books and boxes and boxes of insects, from every country imaginable- rare stag beetles and cicadas that only come out one night every 60 years to common bees, all displayed with the same undying care and precision. With careful hands, he would hold beetles up to the sunlight for me, so as to show me how the light changed the drab black insect into a flashing array of colors. His work is solitary and, to me, trying, but he goes about it with child-like intrigue every day, always searching for an explanation and a better understanding of the natural world, which is one of the reasons as to why he now resides in the forest in a cabin in Maine, to live simply.
Although I don’t share the same need for an explanation for the ways in which nature works, being the child of an environmentalist and a biologist, I’ve been raised and instilled with a deep appreciation, respect and understanding of nature and peoples place in it that goes back for generations of explorers and scientists on both my mother and father’s side.
One thing deeply etched into my memory is being 11 years old and hearing my mother cavalierly mention during a dinner table discussion how at the rate of consumption and population growth humans are maintaining, the planet may not be livable in the matter of 60 years. That hit me like a boulder; I asked to be excused, as they moved on to the topic of a massive asteroid scheduled to possibly collide with the earth in the matter of 5 years.
Whenever I concerned myself with my mother’s work or showed distress regarding the news or something I overheard her saying to a co-worker, she would tell me that a young girl like me shouldn’t be worrying so much and to enjoy my childhood- which is possibly the least logical logic I’ve ever heard. It was easy for her to say, as someone who spent years in the rainforest and as a marine biologist, as someone who has seen the world and experienced the wildest of nature.
Many adults, though they may not realize it about themselves, have turned their cheek to the impending environmental disasters at hand. It’s not in their lifetimes or before they grow old that they will see their ambitions to explore the natural world crushed at the hands of power-hungry, stiff 60-year-old politicians, or in their lifetime that their own children might not see the change of seasons or walk through waist deep snow or see the rain forests. Why is it that the government and society is spending their time arguing over gay marriage and abortion, and even hunger and poverty, when the ground we walk on is changing, the atmosphere heating at an alarming rate, species going extinct, and when humans very existence is being threatened in a time period so small that change on a scale large enough at this point is nearly impossible?
The very immensity of the environmental crisis’ at hand sometimes overwhelm me to the point of wanting to turn my cheek, as well; but not without considering my goals. I want to hike mountains and see animals in their natural habitats and experience the natural world, and I would want the same for my children and the generations to come. As I’ve grown from a child to a young adult, what was once a general angst towards societies impartialness towards the state of the environment has turned to a sort of itch, or wanderlust in the most desperate sense of the term. It’s my future and the future of this generation that needs saving, so why shouldn’t I concern myself with it? If I don’t, who will?
I’ve come to realize that if change is to occur, the generation that will be effected are the ones who have to take action, but unfortunately, many of them have inherited the same impartialness from their parents, and are therefore uneducated when it comes to conservation, or have found themselves in the dumbing mindset of green movements being “lame”, and their organizers being glasses-wearing doormats with straight A’s or dropout Rastafarian hippies who live out of their car.
A quote I always liked from Ghandi goes, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” What this quote means to me is literal but also that nature is simple and giving and beautiful, yet somehow it isn’t enough for people and has driven them to destroy it and look at it as a possession rather than the gift that it is.
What people seem to forget is how dependent we are on nature for food and nurturing and stability even when they live in the city, and because people have grown out of touch with nature, they aren’t noticing the changes in the environment and experiencing them first-hand, therefore don’t have the same inspiration and desperation for change as they would if they spent more time in it.
When I think of my childhood, I think of lugging sap buckets through a foot and a half of snow, and swimming at the river during summertime when the light shines through the water in beams and I think of canoeing in the pond and nursing animals back to health; and though not everyone can have as rich and fulfilling and close to nature a childhood as I had, I think everyone has that simple kid like wonder and awe in them in regards to nature- that alone, should be enough inspiration to take action in protecting what has provided for humans for so long and continues to provide for us.