Our fifth annual writing contest for kids was a bit different this year. In addition to requesting essays about nature, we asked for artwork submissions, realizing that a picture can indeed be worth a thousand words. As in previous years, we were enormously impressed by the wealth of talented writers – and artists – among the Grade 7 and 8 students who entered the competition in response to the topic “Wild species and wild spaces: why biodiversity is important to me.” Through their writing and drawing, the winners showed us how much they care about our planet, how concerned they are about its degradation and how aware they are that we depend on a landscape that can support healthy and diverse ecosystems. We continue to look to them – the next generation of environmental leaders – for inspiration and hope.
The winning artists and writers received their awards at Ontario Nature’s first Youth Summit for Biodiversity. We deeply appreciate the support of the Toronto Field Naturalists (TFN) in sponsoring five participants at our summit. TFN has been promoting a love of nature in Toronto for nearly 90 years. This Ontario Nature member group stimulates public interest in natural history and works to protect and enhance Toronto’s ravines, parks and waterfront.
We also gratefully acknowledge the generous support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation and Mountain Equipment Co-op.
First Place: Sensing change
By Spencer McGregor
The noises are all intertwined. I hear trees swaying in the breeze, a bullfrog’s low croak by the water’s edge. An angry squirrel is chattering above me. Far off I hear the call of a moose. There are birds singing all around me.
Suddenly, I’m in a different place. The noises are deafening. I hear an airplane screaming past above me, I hear cars roaring by on a nearby highway. Up and down the street, I can hear doors shutting and the loud, yelling voices of people. I stand there listening. I can’t hear even one natural sound.
I’m standing in the forest again. I look around me – everything is breathtaking. I see a towering pine beside me, shafts of sunlight streaming down from between the gaps in its needles. I see the birds flitting from tree to tree. I hear a splash and turn around to see a beaver swimming towards its den. Everything here has an amazing beauty to it. I could stay here forever.
But again I’m in the city, drained of colour and life, the complete opposite of the forest. I look around me and see skyscrapers towering high over everything, blocking out the sun. I see the people, running around from place to place, always in a hurry. I hear a splash and look behind me. Somebody has thrown a plastic cup into a puddle on the sidewalk. What a horrible place! I want to run from here and never return. I close my eyes, trying to get away.
When I open them, I’m in the forest and I start to notice things I hadn’t noticed before. I take a deep breath through my nose. I can smell everything in the forest. I can smell the pungent rotting wood all around me and the skunky smell of a marsh close by. I can smell the trees, the sweet, tangy smell of pine needles. The forest is alive with rich, interesting smells.
I take another breath and almost choke. I’m in the city again. The stench is overpowering. I can smell the noxious fumes of the cars and factories everywhere. I can smell the chemicals, the toxic chemicals washing away into the storm drains unnoticed. I can’t stand it. My eyes start to water, the fumes burning them. How can anyone live like this, in this cloud of burning smog?
I return to the forest once more. I fall to my knees, grateful for the fresh air, clean water and vibrant colour all around me. I start walking, trying to get away from the memories of the city. I walk and walk and, eventually, far away I hear something, something unnatural. I go faster, moving towards it. When I finally get there, I’m horrified by what I see. Chainsaws ripping through trees, stumps everywhere, sawdust darkening the air, animals running to get to safety. I run to a worker to ask what’s happening. I’m crushed by what he says. I stand there motionless, unbelieving, until he shoos me away. “Go on, now, and have fun in the forest,” he says, “it won’t be here much longer.”
Second Place: A jewel of Ontario
By Alison Griffith
I am the blood and heartbeat of diverse life. Tall, majestic giants worthy of praise and young saplings of birch, oak, poplar, maple, fir and pine drink and thrive in my rich soil. Babbling bodies of water dance on my skin with sheer elegance.
Feathered grasses and frolicking wildflowers rely on my existence for life. Creatures great and small, all of equal importance, know life in my serene world, under my lush canopy, a true home.
I am always a grand symphony of sound. The wind breathes, cries and chants enchanting music. The birds seem to sing with pride. The tree spirits always chatter the most interesting things, and the tinkling waters and rainbows of angelic sunlight answer with glee.
On the afternoons of autumn I rival the splashing beauty of a vibrant tapestry. I am an alien fairyland of gold, crimson and orange, sparkling under the grins of sunlight and crisp, airy breaths.
In the tired light of spring, I am an enchanted wood of fair shades and mystical perfumes. I am brimming with new, essential lives waiting to add to my beauty.
On the clear, distant nights of gentle summer, crystals of icy stars shimmer above me and the wind woman’s whispering breaths flow through me, as my creatures whimper and cry out in solitary delight.
On the shivering mornings of winter, veils of golden sunlight send a delicate glimmer on the diamonds of snow resting on me. I am chilly in body, loving in spirit.
I bear the delicious pleasures of sugary syrups and plentiful, scrumptious summertime berries, worth more than the most precious jewels. They provide my creatures with the means of survival. I hold the power to cure ailments with my many barks and herbs of wonder.
I am uniquely beautiful and a magical, compassionate world on my own. I am a free spirit and a shimmering jewel of the earth. I give air and habitat, as well as a special sense of freedom, to my residents and visitors. I am irreplaceable.
I am an Ontario forest. I fear that someday the calls of the wind will no longer rustle through me, that my birds will cease to sing and the creatures not scamper over my nourishing earth, that my wonders will go from me. I worry that someday my calming and truly natural world will vanish, at the mercy of cruel development.
I am endangered and essential to life. I must be able to mother the creatures and tree spirits. You cannot exist without my existence. Biodiversity is truly the most wonderful thing of all and needs to remain a part of life on earth.
Third Place: The seed
By Tiana Colantonio
The elder birds are always telling us young birds, “Be grateful for what you have. You are very lucky to have a home and a family!” I was curious to know why. Today, my grandfather, Abram, who was sick and dying, would tell me everything.
“When I was only seven,” he began, “the greatest storm in history occurred right here on this island.” My talons clawed nervously as he spoke. Grandfather described the cracking sounds of the trees as they were stuck by lightning and how the flames from the trees were noticeable from miles away.
Fires roared across the entire forest. I pictured every scene in my mind, from the shrieking animals to the rising smoke and the last falling tree. Only my grandfather and a few other animals survived. I interrupted his story with a question. “Why do we need different types of animals?” He sighed and replied, “Oh, how little you know. Biodiversity, which means having many plants and animals in an ecosystem, is what has made us survive this long. When the forest fire occurred, there wasn’t enough biodiversity to support animal life on this island. Believe it or not, every species has a different role in the environment. For example, let’s say the mosquito became extinct. Then what would the dragonflies have to eat? They too would disappear and the same would happen to other species in their food chain until the entire food chain was extinct. With biodiversity, animals would have a better chance of avoiding extinction, because there would be different types of animals to consume. This is why biodiversity is so essential. Understand?” I nodded my head slowly as I realized the importance of what he said. He continued his story by describing how he built a nest in the ruins and had to go to bed hungry and alone that night. “As I lay in the nest, I thought that my agony would last forever. The forest looked bleak. But deep within me there was hope.”
“How to save the forest came to me in a dream,” my grandfather said proudly. I listened attentively as he described his dream of finding a magic seed in a foreign place. In his dream, he planted the seed and instantly a tree began to grow. Then more trees grew around him to form a new forest. Birds of all types made their homes in the trees. Bees, squirrels, raccoons, foxes and other forest creatures appeared. It was a wonderful sight.
My poor grandfather whimpered as he continued. “Oh, my dear granddaughter! The effort it took to convince myself to find the seed… But I knew it was my destiny.” Filled with adrenalin, my grandfather went in search of the magical seed. He soared over many islands looking for any distinguishing features. Soon he recognized the enormous tree from his dream. It was located in the middle of a lush forest on a small island. Abram noticed how great the biodiversity was on this island. There was a glow near the large tree and he thought that it might be where he could find the seed from his dream. “The flight was exhausting. And when I reached the tree there was no seed in sight. Then suddenly, there was a blinding flash of light and, to my amazement, a seed appeared in my beak! It began to rain, and memories of the forest fire flashed in my mind. My heart began to beat faster as I remembered my parents’ screams from the fire. I returned to our island, pushing those thoughts out of my mind.” I was weeping as he told the story, but my grandfather did not flinch. He continued, “I planted the seed and our island was transformed!” Within minutes, the forest grew green with trees. Flowers bloomed and animals of all sizes came. Birds filled the sky. Life happened miraculously. “I had fulfilled my destiny.” His voice trailed off as he finished the sentence, and his eyes slowly closed. He was only able to mutter his words, but he left me that day with a mission: to cherish and take care of life on our island.