For most of my life, I have lived atop Chestnut Ridge, a small hill running parallel to the well-known Kittatinny Ridge through a small portion of eastern Pennsylvania. Its trickling mountain seeps, golden meadows, and acres of undeveloped forest are what originally opened my eyes to beauty and harmony in the natural world. As a young child, I spent hours exploring the woods: climbing the trees that towered above me, searching for salamanders under scattered rocks on the forest floor, and watching the treetops for the songbirds that warbled their sweet melodies over my head. The Ridge and the lessons it has taught me are what developed and strengthened my desire to respect and conserve the environment.
The Ridge that I know has not always been the same, for the ecology has changed dramatically over the years. The only namesake chestnuts that remain on Chestnut Ridge are the saplings emerging from the roots of a tree that succumbed to the plight of a chestnut blight almost one hundred years ago. Even in sixteen years of living here, I have witnessed changes to this delicate ecosystem. Non-native plants have slowly crept their way along the forest edge, infiltrating a beautiful and wild habitat. The aggressive autumn olive is replacing the native dogwoods that once bordered the fields with a scarlet frame every autumn.
Watching the Ridge fall to these destructive forces has taught me to appreciate what remains rather than lament over what is gone. In a world where nature is slipping away like a salamander in a clenched fist, we must appreciate and nurture what we still have—the things we can save. We can never rid the world of bad things, but if we improve what is good and beneficial, and keep these gems safe, the world may end up being a better place overall.
Chestnut Ridge, my home, has encouraged good things in me. It is time for me to return the favor.