Matthew Tengtrakool

2019-2020 Live Deliberately Essay Contest

Matthew Tengtrakool, 16
Winner, 14-16 Age Group
Burlington, MA

The apple falls far from the tree.

Once upon a time, our ancestors looked up into the sky with humble wonder and awe, letting the stars command their destiny. For nature was the mother that tended to mankind like a first-born. She allowed the domestication of the sweetest sugarcane and granted the sundry potentials of cotton, but it was not enough. Humans are curious beings, and it was simply time which distinguished fairy tale from reality. Our ancestors, spoiled with the sweet milks of superiority, soon arrived at the unsound conclusion that they could govern the earth — as if they hadn’t navigated seas under Polaris nor drank water from the coconut. They drained her blood for oil, trimmed her hair for trees, and fracked her skin for minerals. “The black birches”, Thoreau mentioned, “that grew on the hill near by” were cut down to build houses of vinyl and stone — a false sense of impermeability from the forces they had disrespected.

We are not our ancestors. “It is time we had done referring to them.”

As a young child, I would listen to adults argue about environmental policy and of economy; their lips spit oil, and their words were hazy with CO2. ¨Well, I think..¨ I would try to interject, but I was always swiftly interrupted, my voice extinguished by the ¨hey kid, the adults are talking” of a man with an uppity smile. Oh! how I wish he too had spit oil at me; my words are fire. They are no longer bound to societal age constructs but to the trees which are burning; my words are water. Nature, the once all-encompassing shelter, now divides us through artificial word and debate.

The apple must fall far from the tree for seeds to birth anew. The youth must stop pretending that we fell close to it. Thoreau asserts, “we have used up all our inherited freedom” for we are shaded by the acts of ancestors no longer. What we do have is the strength of uncultivated soils fertilized with new ideas for old problems. The sky rains upon us youthful vigor and creativity; we have the power. The youth have power. It is our responsibility to fight for our lives.

I also once had youthful eyes, glossy with the paint of adulthood, and hands tied behind my back. I was just a child when I tried pushing the mountain of climate change into the sea; it didn’t budge. Yet, my journey to see and to act commenced right where it must have done the same for Thoreau, in his farm in Concord. Often, I spent my weekends volunteering on Thoreau’s farm cultivating my newfound passion for environmentalism, observing all that was left of “Old Concord”. As Thoreau puts it, “this is not an era of repose,” and we must experience the remaining beauties that nature provides to visualize our future with it.

It was there where I decided that I was done observing and began to pick at the pebbles of the mountain. I became an eagle scout, leading my troop on community service projects and conservation cleanups. I served as a Mystic Watershed Ambassador, running stands at community fairs creating awareness for our local watershed. I founded a program called Green Tennis Burlington that creates small steps for a greener town. With it, I raised $1,000 to purchase tennis ball recycling bins and fund a tennis ball recycling program for my local parks. Over the past summer, I had the opportunity to work as an independent high school researcher at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. There, I researched the use of nanomaterials in cleaning up oil spills, and my work was able to benefit Chevron’s clean energy project. The mountain is far from falling, but I have gained something far more important. Confidence cleared my glossy eyes, and my hands pulsate with a newfound activist strength.

It is small steps that lead to societal change. Pebbles picked by many hands can topple the mountain. Youth have power in this world, and we will not let our age define our abilities to save our future.

Now, it is our turn to look into the night sky, where the depths of foggy desire reside, a culmination of unreachable crevices, and spoil the milks of superiority. The youth must tend to the earth like a sickly mother; together we can cure her. We must intertwine our legacies with that of nature herself and create a future full of apple trees.