I ran cross-country in high school just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. Every spring we would have an annual “mountain run” that started in the school parking lot and ended 2,000 feet up the Blue Ridge Mountains on Skyline Drive. While most of my memories from that run are of burning lungs and aching legs, I do remember getting to the top and realizing for the first time how incredibly close I lived to one of the most beautiful places on Earth. While crossing the Appalachian Trail and connecting to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and I could look down and practically see my school and my house! I had grown up around nature, with lots of day hikes and summer car-camping adventures, but that mountain run was the first time I felt close to nature and absorbed by it. I was fighting it with every step up that steep re road, but I was also falling in love with it.
Since then I’ve realized that I’m happiest when I’m working with and alongside nature. Along the way, though, I’ve also realized that nature is a lot more complex than the simple mountains behind my house. Nature was destroyed and preserved, it was politicized and argued about, and through all of this it usually had a mind of its own. Nature eluded simple explanations, so when I got to college to try to learn more about it, I didn’t even know where to start. From very early on, though, I met people who shared my same yearning to understand the world around them and who strove for the same goal of building a more sustainable future. The professors and students that I met my freshman year opened my eyes to a new world that was the College of Natural Resources and Environment.
I’m a geography major now, and I still don’t have all the answers, but I’m filling my box with tools that I know will be invaluable down the road. I still like to run, too. I joined a trail running club here at Virginia Tech and have run three trail 50Ks since my freshman year. I also play cello in the New River Valley Symphony and give campus tours as a Hokie Ambassador, as well as serve on the leadership team with Reformed University Fellowship, a local campus ministry.
Nature, like I realized on that first mountain run, is closer than you think, and being able to see it from both the classroom and the trails has given me a new perspective on life. That nature is meant to be loved, and lived in, and wrestled with. That ecosystems and cities and families and friends are all interconnected. That the best conservationist conserves life itself. And that the best runner leaves no tracks.