I remember the first time I visited the beach and saw the ocean. I was completely shocked at how big the ocean was, and I remember thinking: where are all the jellyfish? Are we really gonna see sharks here? Are there turtle eggs in the sand? I was immediately asking all these questions to myself because I was curious if my beach experience would be like everything I had seen on TV.
Before my first beach trip, my relationship with nature was shaped through the media I consumed. I would sit beside my dad whose favorite channels were the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, or watching the adventures of Steve Irwin on The Crocodile Hunter. As his daughter, it was only a given that I would watch these shows and documentaries with him – and I grew to love our little tradition. Nature, animals, and wildlife fascinated me. Whenever I saw various animals in their habitats, from polar bears in the Arctic to scarlet macaws in the Amazon, I realized I wanted to know and see more.
Aside from our yearly one-day beach trips and TV binges, my dad would take us to the park to look at birds, go to the Smithsonian National Zoo on Saturdays, or even to our local county fair to see the petting zoo during the summer. They were simple experiences but they allowed me to see and admire wildlife. In these places, I would get the opportunity to learn more about animals, what it means to care for them, and why it’s important to protect them.
My interest for nature, animals, and wildlife grew, and in elementary school, I eventually joined the 4-H Club. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I joined but all I knew is that I wanted to be involved with helping in any way I could. I yearned to learn more about what I could do to help my community and our environment. At that age, I knew I wouldn’t be able to solve big environmental issues but to me, just small actions felt like an important first step.
One memory during my time with the 4-H Club stayed with me. We were asked to go around our school and pick up any trash we could find. Afterward, we would come together and look over the items we collected. I remember one of these items we looked at and talked about was an old deflated balloon. We didn’t know if this balloon had come from our school or maybe from a few cities over, but regardless, this piece of plastic came from somewhere and ended up in our environment. We went on to learn about the harmful effects of pollution and how it not only harms our environment but also wildlife. That old balloon we found could have been ingested by birds or squirrels or it could have landed in a stream where fish and other animals live. That day we made the choice to clean up and care for our environment and dispose of that balloon. It was then that I realized that our choices can have an impact, even if it’s small. It taught me to appreciate nature by not only admiring it, as I had through TV but by also taking steps to protect it in any way possible.
This Latino Conservation Week, I look back at the little moments: the once-a-year beach trips, the wildlife shows I’d watch with my dad, and joining the 4-H Club. All of these moments shaped my continued appreciation for nature and wildlife. Even though my experiences weren’t visits to the Grand Canyon, checking out fancy beaches, or traveling to a new country, they still introduced me to the beauty of nature and what it has to offer. These moments, as small as they were, left an imprint on me, one that continues to this day.
I know somewhere out there, there are kids who are looking forward to their own beach day, and those beach days may lead them to other small experiences with nature. My hope is that youth today are able to appreciate nature in any form that it comes to them. You don’t have to do anything extraordinary to experience the beauty of nature. Appreciating the little moments is just as fulfilling as anything else.
Written by Jamileth Picavia-Salazar for Green 2.0.