Birdwatching at Long Point Provincial Park

Dear Mother Nature,

I took a long drive to Port Rowan, Ontario near Lake Erie this morning with a new pair of binoculars. My destination was the Long Point Bird Observatory.

I arrived around midday at the visitor’s facility. I found a route branching off towards the South. In front, there were multiple signs planted in the ground, warning adventurers of poison ivy and a possibility of ticks carrying Lyme disease on the trail. Nice. I applied a profuse spray of insect repellent on my body and carried on.

It astounded me how many birds I heard in the surroundings as I traversed the tall bushes and forestry surrounding my path – far more than you might find at a city park or trail. But as I discovered soon, finding and identifying them was a another challenge.

Early on, I arrived at an observing platform.. Dragonflies buzzed around at the pond nearby. After a couple minutes of viewing, a small bird landed on a metal pole no more than ten feet out from me. I was so breathtaken that I forgot to record it with my photograph, and I therefore cannot pinpoint its species. My best guess is that it was some sort of hummingbird.

With the help of an app on my mobile phone, I distinguished a couple creatures I observed today. Among those were the Red-Winged Blackbird, the Common Grackle, and the American Robin – all very common species. I think I’ll get better at finding more elusive varieties as I learn more about birds.

My clearest view and most enthralling view came at the end of the day, on a sandy path nearby the Long Point beach. There, I found a group of white-bellied birds which I identified as tree swallows: beautiful, acrobatic fliers with shiny blue backs. A couple brown-feathered females also rested on the branches of their tree. I walked up to around twenty feet away from their spot and got a great view of the half-dozen swallows perched there. Captivating.

The location where I found the tree swallows.

Was my journey a success? To even a novice birder, no. I struggled to put a name on even some common species in the area. But as I dive deeper into your rabbit hole, Mother Nature, I’m becoming more and more mesmerized.

Humans all have moments of intense enthrallment. The first time a child sees snow. The first time a mother holds her baby. More than ever in my recent years, I feel that I’m experiencing more and more of these moments in your presence, nature.

I’ll be back at Long Point soon.





Do We Take Too Many Photos?

Dear World,

Recently, as I was backing up some photos on my iPhone, I found myself asking, do I take too many pictures?

Personally, compared to my peers, I am not a prolific photographer: my phone’s camera roll currently contains only 86 pictures. At times, I feel disconnected from a generation of millennials who obsess over posting photos online.

We take more pictures in the 21st century because the role of photo-taking is changing.

In the past, a photograph was a way of recording intense personal memories to savor in the future with family and friends, like Marisa Donnelley at Thought Catalog wrote. During my early years, my mother recorded videos of me at school or at the zoo or on the beach. Now, when we watch them on our VHS player, it brings us a lot of joy. My mother’s video-recording was a selfless act. She sacrificed her ability to relax and to enjoy her surroundings by constantly capturing my activities. As a result of her sacrifice, I can re-watch parts of my childhood which I would have forgotten.

Today, photography is not simply a selfless act. With the rise of social networks such as Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat, photo-taking, or more specifically photo-posting, has become a tool for validation and self-promotion. It’s pretty common for a teenager to text his or her friends, asking, “Is this good enough to post on Instagram?” or “What should I caption this photo?”, and this is reveals the changing purposes of digital media. While pictures and videos may still be ways to share memories with close ones, we post them on Instagram and Snapchat to embellish our social image. By taking photos of concerts and parties, we seek approval from our followers – “oh, your life must be so awesome!” 

There’s a reason that Instagram users obsess over the number of likes on their posts.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with updating friends on your life through websites and applications, it becomes obsessive. My iPhone tells me that I’ve used Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook for a total of 6.5 hours this week, and for many teenagers, this number is double, or even triple.

I don’t have a solution to our generation’s social media woes, nor can I answer whether we take too many pictures. However, I believe that we should take more meaningful pictures.

The next time you pull out your phone to take a shot, ask yourself, why am I taking this photo? To cherish in the future? Or merely to post on a snapstory which will disappear in 24 hours? You’ll find your pictures a lot more meaningful.




A Walk in Nature

Dear Mother Nature,

I ventured out into your realm on one of my morning walks around campus last Sunday, and you amazed me with your startling beauty in the most unexpected places.

There is a tree standing on the lawn outside my dormitory. I often sit under its shade reading homework assignments while playing music. Sometimes, other students climb up its smooth bark in an attempt to reach the top.

Today, I identified the tree as a yellowwood. The bark is deceptive: its evenness resembles that of a birch tree, but its distinctive traits give it away: its pinnately compound leaves, and its beautiful, white flowers which hang in clusters during the spring and the early summer. It is native to the southeastern part of the United States, but is commonly integrated into gardens and lawns in the north.

I walked to the other side of campus, where there is a little enclave. The ground is covered in foliage and deciduous trees tower over. With some research, I pinpointed the above plant as the Massachusetts Fern, native to New England. It naturally occurs near swamps and wetlands, which makes sense, since there is a river right beside the area. But you probably already know that. You’re Mother Nature, after all.

As soon as I entered the area, I heard a sudden rustle in the grass, and I spotted a wild turkey about seven or eight feet away, running towards the nearby downhill slope. I managed to capture the last few seconds of its escape on camera, but its a bit hard to see in the video.

I stared in awe and total captivation as it waddled away in the distance, disturbing the high grass as it moved.

I identified most of the plants and animals I encountered on this particular walk, but there was one type of bird perched high up in the trees that I could not discern. It was too far away to see, but I caught a recording of its call below:

If you know which species this is, please write me back. I will keep researching bird calls to try to identify its sound.

Overall, I would call this excursion successful and I look forward to many more in your domain. Mother Nature, I’ll see you again soon.





Old growth European Beech forest in Biogradska Gora National Park, Montenegro

The Wilderness is Dying Out

Dear World,

I go to school in a quaint region of New England. On Saturday mornings, I go on walks into the nature encircling the campus, particularly to a nearby river, where I observe so many sensations that one might miss in the rush of school life: the rustle of leaves, the quiet, omnipresent babble of water, a glaze of dormant ice on top of a particular channel, and the paw-print of a squirrel in the snow. I sit on the rough bark of a fallen log, looking out onto the river, and I close my eyes and listen to the sounds of the forest. In my solitude, I feel connected to Mother Nature.

But even these walks are not truly in the wilderness. In the distance, I can hear the faint rumblings of car engines on the nearby freeway. Sometimes, I discover the footprints of other people covered with a thin layer of snow. Other times, I find candy wrappers and water bottles littered on the ground.

These signs of human tampering even in the most isolated parts of nature marks a global crisis that threatens to throttle the life out of our Earth. Researchers report that we have lost 10% of the wilderness since the 1990s: that is, land untouched by significant human influence. This territory equates to 1.3 million square miles, or a landmass approximately two times as large as Alaska.

What strikes me as surprising is the unawareness, or perhaps apathy, of most people towards this crisis. How many people who donate to the United Nations have actually experienced raw, untouched nature? How many children who buy stuffed animals from the WWF know that forest destruction endanger gorillas and a plethora of other species? Once forests disappear, they are gone forever: the wilderness can’t procreate the same way humans can, and we can’t breed ecosystems in private enclaves like we do with endangered species.

So many people are oblivious to the wilderness because it plays such a small part in our lives nowadays. Most of us live in a world of “pseudo-nature,” so to speak: ecosystems that are carefully created and regulated by humans in place of Mother Nature. We grow up in cities surrounded by neatly trimmed shrubs, tulips in city-managed parks, and man-made community trails with steel signs every half-kilometer notifying you how far you have walked. The bright city lights obscure the stars in the night sky. Even in the countryside, cedars lined in straight roads delineate the fields of crop. High-rising advertisement billboards for injury law firms and fast-food chains stand beside the asphalt roads. Wind turbines and silos tower in the distance.

Whenever I drive by forests lining highway roads, I feel calm as I pass by acres of nature. But haven’t humans cut down hundreds of thousands of trees to create these highways? Even in the most beautiful parts of the natural world, we forget about the tarnishing effect of industrialization, in this case the harmful presence of these highways and vehicles that disrupt the complex ecosystems around them.

On May 28, 2016, a gorilla named “Harambe” was shot at the Cincinnati Zoo, which turned into an Internet phenomenon overnight with millions of people posting on about the incident social media. Meanwhile, I imagine that the vast majority of those people were unaware about the cruel slaughter of gorillas for consumption or Ebola epidemic, which some say has killed one-third of their population. This is the uniqueness of our era: more than ever, our societies are removed from the natural reality of the Earth and instead immersed in a carefully crafted, artificial “nature”: one which is full of well-groomed gardens, community trails, and billboard advertisements.

With this increasing pervasiveness of “pseudo-nature,” and an increasing sentiment of apathy in regards to the environment, the prospects of wilderness preservation are bleak. By the next century, unindustrialized land may be an extinct species.