Nikki Kershner

2016-2017 Live Deliberately Essay Contest

Nikki Kershner, 16
Honorable Mention, 14-16 Age Group
Stanton College Preparatory
Jacksonville, Florida

The house I grew up in had a backyard bristling with trees. Gentle giants, shedding needles and pinecones that my parents made me help clean up. I can still remember the hearty rustle of the wind rushing through their branches. It almost sounded like the trees were whispering to each other in some language I couldn’t understand. When I was a little girl I selected a tree to be my “wishing tree.” I’m not sure what drew me to that tree in particular; maybe it was the fact that it was too wide for my little arms to wrap around the trunk, or maybe because it was in the very center of the backyard. Maybe I could sense that it was older and wiser than the others. Whatever the reason, I drew pictures on the trunk with sidewalk chalk to label it as special. The trees were all my friends, in a way. There were two skinny ones that grew side-by-side, the perfect distance for a makeshift soccer goal. There was the squat, branching tree by the fence that my siblings and I spent hours climbing. My father nailed ladder rungs to the trunk when our legs were short and the tree seemed so tall. I watched the trees grow as I grew.

What is it that draws us to trees, I wonder? Perhaps it’s because we have so much to learn from them. They grow against all odds. Their branches harbor no grudges or hatred, and they know nothing of successes or failures. If trees could think, they would think of the present. Their minds would be filled with thoughts of sunlight and water. How to grow taller and what they need to do it – all lessons we as humans can learn.

Nature has the amazing ability to take root in the most unlikely places – like dandelions growing from the cracks in sidewalks and great oaks splitting through rocks in order to thrive. Trees shape themselves to their environments. We need to learn to shape our goals and passions to ourselves. Each person is a plot of soil, uniquely composed of hopes and obstacles. When I started middle school I struggled with crippling shyness. I felt awkward in front of others and I could never put my thoughts into words. My soil was scattered with pebbles, but I learned to grow around them. Talking is not the only way to be heard; I could write. Once I planted this seed, I began the journey of cultivating it. There was nothing wrong with my soil, I just needed to find a type of plant that liked it there. Something can grow even in the harshest of environments.

As a whole, one of humankind’s greatest weaknesses is its lack of simple kindness. Unlike people, trees have mastered the art of being kind. Trees provide shelter for countless animals and insects. Although they ask for nothing in return for the availability of their sweeping branches and emerald leaves, the animals and insects pollinate trees’ flowers, which helps more trees grow. If humans could live by the example nature has provided for us, life would be simpler, kinder, and more empathetic.

Once, one of the spindly pines in my backyard was struck by lightning. There was a flash of brilliant white and huge cracking noise amid the pounding rain, and the next morning there was a large patch of charred wood scarring the side of the tree. Yet it grows on. The tree has no memory of this tragedy, no memory of the way it’s bark burned hot and it’s pine needles singed away. My dream has always been to write stories that make an impact. Unfortunately, the dark side to the world of publishing is that it’s full of rejection. Despite many failed attempts, I have learned not to get discouraged. Instead, I live like a tree – I do not let past failures affect my present state of mind.

Nature is the basis of all things – the land we stand on, the stars we gaze upon, the resources we use to power our civilization, even the existence of life itself. Why shouldn’t nature teach us lessons about to act as well? With a mindset of growth and kindness, we have the ability to unfurl our leaves and touch the world in ways we can only imagine.