I have always been drawn to the outdoors– be it hiking in the Rockies, fishing at a lake, or socializing with neighbors on warm summer nights. I feel my best when I’m outside. Although I have always enjoyed communing with nature, I never felt compelled to study plants and animals. However, since I have begun majoring in Fisheries and Wildlife at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and working for the Platte Basin Timelapse project, I have grown to appreciate the outdoors in a new way. Being surrounded by professors and co-workers who care passionately about nature challenged me to rethink my views of the Earth. From listening to lectures, scrolling through PBT images, or reading accounts of other people’s experiences, I realized that nature is more dynamic than I previously thought. Now every time I step outside my door, I pause to make observations about wildlife and plants and to understand their complex interactions.

With this new perspective, I take more time to appreciate the subtle changes in light and make close observations, particularly when I’m photographing. Now that I’m more in tune with my surroundings, I notice the way flowers bend toward the sun or how a water droplet catches the light. These small details are often overlooked by those passing by.

I’ve seen young rabbits emerge from burrows and hatchlings take flight for the first time– instinctively cautious as they explore their new habitat. I’ve also observed how the weather changes the landscape and Nebraska’s rapidly changing weather reminds me that the Earth is flexible. The storms came early this year, bringing torrential rain and devastating hail. The ditches overflowed with rainwater, but only a few days later subsided, leaving scarred and rutted muddy banks.

I’ve also learned that I don’t have to go far to experience the natural world. Although we all love the beauty of our National Parks with their gorgeous landscapes and postcard vistas, it’s important not to overlook the beauty of our own backyards and neighborhoods. If we alter our point of view and begin to see our immediate surroundings in a similar light, we might begin to form a new understanding of the Earth– home to seven billion people and millions of other species. Every organism– human, animal, or plant is interconnected. As the human population increases and available space decreases, we must evaluate our land ethic and our responsibility to each other and all species. Local involvement in the conservation of neighborhood and city green spaces is an important first step as we work together to reduce our impact on the Earth.

I urge you to adopt a new perspective, to slow down and to observe the natural world around you in all its complexity. Speak to others who have developed a strong understanding of the importance of conserving the Earth. Listening to others can reveal new ideas that you might not have thought. Challenge yourself to learn from the world around you. Your new focus may help you to develop a land ethic or further consider your current ethic, and you may learn a few things about yourself along the way.

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