For our fourth annual writing contest for youth, we presented students in grades 7 and 8 with this topic: “Every day we make choices that could help or harm our environment. What are you doing that has a positive impact on our environment?” The answers we received tended to be somber. Clearly, children have absorbed the message they hear from adults that wildlife, habitat, indeed, the entire world, is suffering. The picture that students paint for us through their writing is a bleak one. The silver lining, however, is that these kids care and want to do something to better our world. Ellen, who won first place for her essay, “What’s happening?” imagines what it would be like to actually be a tree in an urban area. Ellen feels what the tree feels. Riley, our second place winner, understands the interconnectedness between people and nature. The third place winner, Lizzie, itemizes an impressive list of eco-friendly actions that she and her family undertake, taking to heart the adage, “Be the change you want.” Tomorrow’s conservation leaders have inherited a planet in trouble. But they appear ready and willing to rise to the occasion. The writers of the winning essays received their awards at Ontario Nature’s annual general meeting in May. We gratefully acknowledge the contest sponsors, Waste Management Inc. and Mountain Equipment Co-op.

Five Stars

? FIRST What’s happening? by Ellen from Waterloo
? ? SECOND My positive impact by Riley from Sault Ste. Marie
? ? ? THIRD Eco-friendly me by Lizzie from Toronto
? ? ? ? FOURTH Help save the trees by Elina from Alfred
? ? ? ? ? FIFTH Robin’s monarch butterflies by Robin from Washago

What’s happening?

By Ellen

I feel small, weak. Once I was a majestic, strong oak, but now I feel my strength draining away, to where, I don’t know. What’s happening?

My brothers and sisters have disappeared over time. For some, it was inevitable. However, others I lost through the sharp blades of those who enter my home, destroy those I love. Sometimes they stay there, building them into a sturdy structure, and I weep. I weep far more, though, when my brothers and sisters, weakened by the fumes that enter the earth, are left to die on the ground until they rot away, wasted. What’s happening?

The ones who enter this forest are loud; when I first heard them, they shook me to my core. I was frightened, but I believed they would tire of the woods eventually. Instead, they settle close to me; bright lights that outshine even the sun but produce no warmth are shining constantly. They spray strong chemicals that burn the ground I seek nourishment from. What’s happening?

I can’t help but feel angry. What right do they have, stealing what is mine? When I feel this fury, though, all I can do is remember the ones who care. The ones who create more of my kind, who seem curious about my aged wood. The small ones, who run around and around, making me dizzy. How can the cruel ones exist when so many are kind? What’s happening?

As I rest, I wonder. I wonder why the rain burns now. I wonder what will happen to my kin around the world. I wonder if the other kind enter only my home, or others’ too. I wonder if I too will be destroyed. Most of all, I wonder if this will ever change. What’s happening?

At first, I didn’t notice the changes. Now, they’re all I think about. The way the weather became far more irregular over the years, how the small creatures I used to feed have gone. How my leaves have become just the slightest bit smaller. It terrifies me, not knowing what’s happening, even while it makes me deteriorate in a million different ways. What’s happening?

I still feel small, weak. Once I was a majestic, strong oak, but now I feel my strength draining away, to where, I don’t know. Why, I don’t know. Will no one save me? Am I truly alone? What’s happening?

My positive impact

By Riley

The bees fly around the earth
See the stars when they’re at birth
Everything has had a beginning
But in the fight of life they are not all winning
We’re the cause of their destruction
The ice is thinning
Time is going
The world is crumbling as we sit and watch
Are you waiting for a hero?
Because the chance of that is almost zero
We say it’s always the darkest before dawn
But the way we are working dawn may never come
Everyday we sit and say we will help tomorrow
But tomorrow is running out
All we do is complain and pout
That’s why we shall start today
Two seconds of your time to place a can in a bin
Is worth helping the world to win
Spending a little more time to ride a bike
To where you want to go
Is worth keeping the waters below
Filling our airs with gasses hurting ourselves and others
Fathers, children and mothers no matter how small
Can make a big difference when you look at it all
The reason I changed my way to travel
It’s the reason I recycle and keep the car from the gravel
The reason I do my best to help the world
And conserve energy
Is because the world will always be a part of me.

Eco-Friendly Me

By Lizzie

I am a grade seven student at Kingsway College School, where we are active in community service. Even outside of school, I take part in community service, especially working to save or help the environment. Here are some examples of how I help the environment.

Last year, my brother and I got involved in the Lake Partner Program at our cottage on Sand Lake, Kearney. The Lake Partner Program is a program in which one person or a group of people monitor the lake and then send the results to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment. As soon as the ice is off the lake, we go out in our boat to take water samples, which are labelled and sent right away to the ministry. The samples are used to check the levels of bacteria and how healthy the lake is.

Along with the sample bottles, we receive a sheet with 12 spaces on it and a black-and-white disk known as a secchi disk. Every weekend, or as often as possible throughout the summer and early fall, my brother and I go out to the deepest point in our lake and drop the secchi disk, which is attached to a piece of rope marked with a line every metre, and see how far down the secchi disk can still be seen. We record this on the sheet, along with the temperature of the lake.

We also have to record information such as when stable, solid ice first formed on the lake and when it came off and what colour the lake is (orange/brown or green/yellow). The Ministry of the Environment uses this information to determine whether the lake is healthy.

A few years ago, my father went around our house and cottage switching all our light bulbs to CFLs (compact fluorescents). I was in grade three at the time and didn’t even know what “CFLs” stood for, or what they were.

At our cottage, we have a large gully which we tried to fill. Instead of buying fillers or gravel, we use the gully as a sort of compost area, dumping leaves, rotted wood, etc. into it. Since we filled it in, a rabbit has made a burrow there, chipmunks have extended their holes, a mink has claimed a section of it, and insects and toads thrive in it.

We burn wood instead of using fossil fuels or gas. We do this without harming the environment by cutting down too many trees; we only cut down rotted trees.

I bring a litterless lunch to school every day; instead of using plastic bags, I use reuseable containers, and recycle pop cans and water bottles instead of throwing them out. My family has bought a bin to put our groceries in, instead of using plastic bags which end up in landfills or down animals’ throats.

I turn off the lights when I leave a room and don’t turn them on if I can avoid it. When my family goes away, we keep certain lights on a timer instead of just leaving them on throughout our vacation.

I use recycled paper and print stuff on both sides of the sheet. My family also uses a de-icer on our driveway in the winter that won’t harm the environment, and in the summer we don’t use pesticides in our garden that can harm the wildlife in our backyard.

As you can see, my family and I are active in doing environmentally friendly actions, and I hope that some day I can inspire others to do the same.