Amanda Nguyen

2016-2017 Live Deliberately Essay Contest

Amanda Nguyen, 16
Honorable Mention, 14-16 Age Group
Lake Braddock Secondary School
Burke, Virginia

Although he could not possibly have anticipated it in his time, Thoreau is in this modern day much like the ancient trees he once lived alongside. Thoreau’s intellect and influence are unmistakable, stretching quietly across the face of human consciousness as the shadows of the forest stretch across a still pond. From his unique and profound connection to nature arises an apt metaphor, carefully worded wisdom cultivated whilst Thoreau lived among the trees themselves. Even in an age where our roots are our wires, Thoreau offers the gentle hand of a gardener, guiding each and every human on their path towards the sun.

When I was born, my mother left her career to care for her family. She raised me to be curious, to ask questions, to explore. She hesitated when I asked her if we could begin to compost, but eventually, she saw that there was a lesson to be learned, despite the messiness of it all, and she consented. Armed with orange peels and apple cores, I learned how the death of one plant could bring forth the rich, full life of another. Although fruit-bearing trees do not thrive in this climate, we grew flowers on the graves of their fruits, and we did not mourn the apples and oranges we could not grow. This is what I believe Thoreau expresses when he offers his thoughts. There were opportunities we did not have, but those opportunities enriched us and prepared us for the flowers we would coax into beautiful blooms.

It is this that makes Thoreau’s wisdom so apparent. The circle of life and death, of missed opportunities, of future possibilities―these things are present in our everyday lives, and yet we fail to see them for what they could represent. By living so closely to nature, Thoreau became what we in the modern day cannot. And although he asks us to consider his simple way of life, he does not demand it of us. He simply asks that we seek Nature’s own wisdom. The Earth is far older than we are capable of comprehending, and it will live to be far older than we ever will. There is a natural way of things, a way of things that only the redwoods remember, and although it is impossible for us to understand these things that are so far beyond ourselves, if we look to learn the ways of Nature, they will always be there.

Humanity is much smaller than Nature, yet it is humans that confer meaning to each and every object, every rock, every tree. Instead of escaping our cosmic insignificance, I believe Thoreau asks us to confront it. We cannot simply bury our heads in the sand and attempt to flee what it is that we do not understand. The world is not meant for our worrying. Our lives have meaning because meaning is what we make of it, and that is something uniquely and beautifully human. We are vulnerable, certainly, and we are not the strongest of the species, but we have forged a beautiful bond with Nature. We are the universe’s way of trying to understand itself.

When I traveled this past summer, I visited one of the most breathtaking places known to man. Although I had no cell phone signal, and I was not wired to the world I had always known, my own eyes were enough to observe the grandeur of the Yosemite Valley. It was there, between sheer rock faces and cascading waterfalls, that I finally opened my eyes and learned to accept that I was human. That I was small, yes, and that I was part of a world bigger than I was. Being human didn’t just mean that I was insignificant, though. It meant that I had a life I was meant to be leading and that my past and my future were nothing if I could not control my present. My failures and my mistakes had led me there, contemplating the beauty of the world around me, and if I had succeeded in all my endeavors and my life had not led me there, sitting in the valley, it would not have been worth it.

I kept a journal, on that trip. I keep a journal now. I was born with words on the tip of my tongue, and I know now that there is no denying that. This is who I am. This is the tree that bears fruit.