Special to the OBSERVER
Last year, as Rachel Needham finished her senior year of high school, she wrote this fine piece about why she needs nature, the barriers to that experience, and why we all need a reality - or nature - check:
Teens enjoying Audubon Camp.
As a high school senior preparing to apply for college, I am drowning in advice from teachers, parents, friends' parents, parents' friends, my boss, and even a random old man in a library (interesting story, maybe for another time).
I'm glad for the advice, because even though I've got all my big-girl teeth and I have a driver's license, I'm really still just a kid. But of all the advice I've gotten, no one has ever told me, "Hey, academics are important, but go somewhere that also inspires you to play outside."
I want to play outside. After all, I really am just a kid. And even though adults have all their big teeth and many have driver's licenses, they're all just kids, too. And all of us, big and small, need to be somewhere that inspires us to be outside.
To some extent, high school kids are forgotten. We're not kids, and we're not adults.
When I was a sophomore, I worked in a restaurant with a lot of college students. "Do you go to UVa?" They'd ask. "No, I'm actually in high school." The reaction was always the same. The face would droop with uneasiness, and then they'd ask, "So you're a senior?" Nope, not even a junior.
From that point on, they wouldn't talk to me the same way. "Can you get me some napkins" turned into, "Rachel, could you please go into the storage closet and on the left at the bottom of the shelf you'll see some packs of napkins, it would be great if you would bring me some."
No one knows what to do with high schoolers. We get in trouble. We drink, we smoke, we do drugs, and some of us do all three while driving - or at least that's the perception. Unless you yourself are the parent of a teenager, or a cop (and even then), I imagine you'd really rather just ignore us. I don't blame you.
But regardless of how we are perceived, we high schoolers need to be outside just as much as our little brothers and sisters.
Our nature deficiency is not always caused by an addiction to the internet, or video games, or TV.
A lot of it is school-related. When I'm stressed about my homework load, my dad will say, "Just go outside for thirty minutes. You'll feel better." I know he's right, but the idea of "not doing something," even for thirty minutes, absolutely fries my brain. "I don't have time to go outside," I'll say.
I've talked to a lot of friends about the fact that we struggle to get enough exercise, to take a break, or to go outside and just get some sun. There are two problems with this struggle (besides the fact that it's a struggle in the first place).
Problem number one is that we all feel as though exercise or going outside for thirty minutes is the equivalent of doing nothing. After all, it's not like we get credit for doing it. If we really need to take a break, we might as well at least pretend we're still doing homework and hop on Facebook, or stream a TV show online. And if it just so happens that thirty minutes go by? Oops.
Problem number two is that we really don't have any time. Those of us who try to maintain good grades often have longer days than our parents. We're all coffee addicts, insomniacs, and worker bees. A lot of us have resumes that are so impressive I almost want to laugh. And the amount of homework given to us nightly is sometimes outrageous.
We take ourselves way too seriously. High school kids do not have recess, we have after-school sports. And while sports are great, sports are just as mentally challenging as school is. Drills and two-hour practices are commitments of the body and the mind that's probably why they build character.
Sometimes, we youngsters need to get a grip on reality. We need to go outside and be human. Not students, not athletes, not children, not adults, not employees, not popular, not unpopular, not nerdy, not artsy you get the picture.
Labels like these don't allow us to be in the here and now. They make us want to be better students, better athletes, better children, better adults, better workers, more popular. But work will be ready for you tomorrow, school will be there too, and practice is still happening from four to six thirty. We need to be aware right this minute. To notice when we're stressed and simply to go outside, listen to the clouds, feel the sun (or the rain), and come back to ourselves.
Kids are important because they are our future. So are teenagers. When we speak of them, we are speaking just as much of ourselves. Remember that you, too, are a child, and a teenager, and the future. Let's try harder to go out and be human - and let that thirty minutes have its day in the sun.