Memoir Monday: A walk on the wild side

by Tiffany Wong, News Editor

Two hikers perch precariously on the lookout rock, one capturing the skyline with an iPhone and the other examining a particularly tall tree with the more obsolete pair of binoculars. Equipped only with crumpled maps of Yosemite National Park and near-empty water bottles, they had huffed, stumbled and piggybacked their way to the site’s Vernal Falls—the checkpoint where both collapsed in exhaustion and stared in awe at the mountains beyond.

As amateur explorers, neither I nor my brother understood the language of nature. “These are what botanists call yellow bushes,” he would often say while pointing to the forsythia shrubs lining the streets we slogged along during our afternoon walks. We spent our weekends religiously watching “Planet Earth,” a documentary window into a world of wildlife unknown to the residents of our relatively unexciting neighborhood. After months of begging for a family adventure, our parents finally joined us for our first environmental outing as four—and our last, they declared as we slapped Band-Aids on our scratches and slumped into our chairs for an 11 p.m. dinner.

Now confined to traversing the trails simulated by the upstairs treadmill set at a slight incline, I spent my daily runs idly listening to Spotify playlists in lieu of the cheerful twittering of birds only a pane of glass away. Day by day, my appreciation for the outdoors dwindled as I diluted my mind with artificial cacophonies of sound. Meanwhile, my brother underwent a similar process of devolution and began blasting Girls’ Generation hits from his room until the deer which previously frequented our backyard learned to graze elsewhere.

It wasn’t until our parents somehow agreed to sign the agreement forms for the sixth grade school trip to Mt. Cross and Duke University’s Project WILD pre-orientation program when we realized we wouldn’t be housebound forever. “They’ll be good bonding experiences for both of you,” my father mused as I traced a finger slowly along the grain of the kitchen table and my brother clutched a summer offerings program, his face turning chalky white. “We know our family hasn’t exactly had the best experiences with these types of activities, but at some point you need to take out the earbuds and listen to a conversation instead. Don’t you think?”

By then, both my brother and I had developed a slight wariness of the world we once loved. No longer the children of nature, we were now the children of technology—a demon which had robbed us of our passion for the environment. We spent the weekend arguing over who had the rights to the Nintendo DS until our mother confiscated the device.

I boarded the bus the next day outfitted with a backpack stuffed to the brim with books and a scowl of absolute discontent. I didn’t want to be there at all. Determined to cut my time away from home short by contracting some type of virulent disease, I began looking around the bus for a friend with a runny nose and a box of tissues. But in every direction I turned, I was met with a face grinning with excitement—and soon found myself with the same expression tugging at my lips as the driver began leading my classmates in an off-key version of Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.”

Over the course of the following week, I spent my mornings breathing in the fresh scent of clover and my nights toasting marshmallows in front of a roaring campfire, enveloped in a blanket of coziness and comfort. While cataloguing the plants I came across in my notebook to share with the rest of my group during our lunch discussions, I finally learned the scientific names that had eluded me for so long: pseudotsuga menziesii, sequoiadendron giganteum. My resistance to the outdoors began to dissolve, making way for a new seed of freedom to take root and grow into a beacon of happiness as sturdy as the trees I sketched every day.

I returned from my journey with a treasure trove of leaves in my boots and thick lines of dirt underneath my fingernails. My parents laughed and clapped at my transformation into a wood sprite before hugging me tight and marveling at the detailed drawings I had filled my spiral with.

“When can we go camping?” I blurted as I picked a clump of redwood needles from my hair.

My parents burst out laughing. “Soon,” my mother smiled contentedly as she opened her laptop to a picture of my brother meditating on top of a boulder. “It seems he had as much fun as you did.”