The Importance of Being Fully Present
Anevay, CS15, Brooklyn, NY

My stewardship goal for Exploration Week was to become intentional with my thinking towards the environment and to see the ecological world in full capacity, in terms of ethical treatment of the land and biodiversity. I made myself a book in the art room filled with blank pages to fill on trail with my writing and drawings of my experiences in real time so I can keep my reflections with me when I return. I find it easy to think about these issues and come to certain conclusions but I tend to forget them when I leave the context that made those trains of thought. I'd like to keep my thoughts with me and not jump train, take what I've learned and put my thoughts into action wherever I am in the world. My personal land ethic includes the idea that I am part of the ecological community, and for that to be so I need to step outside of my intentional human community.

Keeping a journal has always been hard for me because I like to let my mind wander and to think fast. I always feel like my pen doesn't move at the same pace as my mind does. It's difficult to remember trains of thought. I made my mind up before I left that I needed and wanted to paint and write every day on trail. I've never used watercolors before so that was a challenge in and of itself, but I found that I learned quickly when I was trying to be observant of the landscape around me. Each color found its place on the page pretty realistically to what my eyes were seeing.

On my backpacking trip I painted Lake Superior three times. The first was right after a big storm and the lake and sky was a never ending grey sight. The water felt unusually calm after the lightning shocked the landscape around it. The second was of the sunset over the lake. The clouds that were forming after the storm looked like cliffs in the sky and the sunlight bounced off them with a rose colored shine, like alpine glow. The sky was a rainbow of colors, oranges and turquoise, purples and yellow.

The last was the next day, at night. Before sunset the sky and water were exactly the same color, no distinction between the two and as the sun was dropping the sky was filled with pastel blues and pinks. If I hadn't made that time to sit and watch I don't think I would remember the lake as well as I do.

This level of observation when trying to learn a new skill, and blend that with new surroundings, made me feel very present in each new place I sat down. I would never have thought to notice how many greens there were if I hadn't made an effort to do some active thinking. My journal made my surroundings so much more beautiful to me, I felt awestruck every step of the way. This deepened my connection with the land which is exactly what I needed to feel motivated to take active steps. I find that I can only fight for what I believe in when I become passionate about something and try my best to learn as much as I can. This passion helps me fight more effectively.

Often when I am in a new place I get comfortable by finding a way to have ownership over my surroundings and feel in control. As human beings we have this desire to feel like we belong and have a heavy influence over our surroundings. We affect the world in big ways, causing change when we step into an environment.

In nature it can feel overwhelming to be completely outside of our familiar environments, cities and homes; without running water and other luxuries. Because we have in many ways shut ourselves out of the wilderness, I think it's hard to understand it and want to protect it. I find that when I'm taken out of my context and put into a place with only a backpack filled with absolute necessities I am much more observant of my behaviors, like how many liters of water I drink a day which makes me think about how much fresh water is in the world and who has access to it.

While backpacking, the day is filled with goals you have to achieve to stay alive. You need to filter water, you need to set up camp, all these things made me feel very present and aware of my surroundings on a level that I don't have to think about when I am back in human civilization. This kind of reminder every day to not take things for granted while on trail made it a lot easier to think about how and why I want to protect the natural environment.

I learned that without my own experiences and first accounts of the wild I would never truly understand or appreciate it and because of that I would never feel motivated enough to really want to do what I need to do to try and conserve it. Setting my writing and art goals before the trip definitely helped me get farther along with my long term goal of truly understanding the environmental web and how everything correlates. I'm excited as the future unfolds about what my place and role will be in advocating for the environment.