I do not want to grow up to be an astronaut.
At one time, like most children across America and many children around the world, I too gazed at the stars, wondering what it would be like to blast off and float among them, to look out the window and see the earth small enough to hold in the palm of my hand. To observe our planet so completely, so far removed, I thought, must be to understand it. From there, bigger and better things await discovery: the vastness of the new frontier.
But somewhere in my preteen years, I read a novel that changed my mind. My enjoyment of being outdoors led me to admire the main character, a Seminole girl growing up in the Florida everglades. She, like myself, watched the stars and even picked out the one she would someday live on—her escape from life on earth. But by the story’s end, she had come to peace with her tumultuous world, rediscovering the miracles and the mystery of nature. She decided she never wanted to leave planet Earth. Neither, I realized, did I.
I am twenty-one years old and already my personal and professional life has been greatly influenced by this ethic. I am studying biology, which recently drew me to Ecuador. I was awed not only by the natural wealth but by the accompanying mystery and tragedy.
New species are still being discovered, mostly in the Amazon basin. I want to find one, to name it. But we can only guess how many are lost daily to deforestation without ever being noticed.
High above the Amazon, I explored the páramo, an entire ecosystem short in stature, perfectly suited to the extremes of life among volcanic Andean peaks. In the thin air, it some days freezes and others bakes. But humans can no better predict the earth’s climate than the mountain weather. The páramo may disappear as the globe warms and lower elevation plants push relentlessly upward in their range.
I believe in preservation. Humans have the capability to destroy a species or vital ecosystem service, so there are some places, like coastal mangrove swamps, we should leave alone.
I believe in conservation. I believe in the rights and needs of every individual and every community. Land and resources should be used responsibly, not squandered. I turn out lights when I leave a room, I turn off the faucet while brushing my teeth, I recycle and bring my own mug to coffee shops. I encourage others to do the same.
I find more release, a greater sense of freedom, in seeing the stars under a wide-open desert sky, mountains silhouetted against their distant gleam, than in the thought of being crammed inside a rocket ship’s insulated hull. I do not want to be an astronaut. I believe in the roots I have grown on planet Earth and I believe the world is not shrinking: every new discovery opens infinite new frontiers right here at home.
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