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Nature and Engineering

by Lance Garrett

When I was a boy, nature was boring.  Or maybe I should say for much of my boyhood, I saw nature every day and it never changed in my eyes. The struggle between a crow and a sparrow was as understandable as unadulterated Pearl Poet.

Nature however would revolutionize my naive perspective.  In seventh grade, I joined  troop 119 of the Boston Minuteman Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the best decision I have made thus far in my life.  With the survival skills, the brotherhood, and heightened awareness came something else: an awakening to nature. The sparrows became champions of survival, fighting off death, the crow. The sparrow was trying its hardest to survive and so was the crow with the life and death stakes only a window away.  Nature was no longer a picture, but a play in which I had a supporting role. I, like the sparrow, was trying to do my best to survive against adversity.

In high school,  I found a new interest tied to a question, how do machines work?  When I saw a high end sports car, I saw both an art form with thousands and thousands of working parts producing enough to propel the car 253 mph despite weighing nearly a ton. That was an amazing thing to me and I decided I was going to build something like that one day. However that was only a bonus. I saw being an engineer as the most profitable option and tied to my interest in building things.

I would learn from a forest what being an engineer really meant. It happened when a student ambassador organization offered me a trip to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji at the end of my junior year.  I jumped at the opportunity. Three weeks into that trip I found myself in Cains, Australia on an old logging path in a rainforest.  The undirected chatter of my fellow ambassadors filled my ears.  I did not dislike the chatter, but when we came to the rainforest, some 90 or more miles from our hotel, nothing could take my attention away from the forest.  I started to walk slowly as I could to absorb the sound of the moment.  My distance from the group increased while the sound of the forest grew.  I stood still not to make a sound; the forest was a symphony of the most beautiful sounds.  Each bird, falling fruit, and shaking leaf was magnificent and distinguishable.  But as they came together, it was something higher than the human senses.  You saw things by hearing them.  All of this was happening at the same time, creating a scene beyond words.  But when I closed my eyes, it was even more beautiful.  The rustling of leaves revealed the forest’s depth and diversity.  The far river became a mighty thunder echoing its power across the land.  All of this was working together to create this Eden before me.  Perfect harmony. One element driving and affecting the other in real time.  I sat there in awe at such an unachievable feat by human methods. This forest, built of the ancestry of ancient seeds, 325 million years in the making, transcended all human capacity.

That complex forest was built on the struggle of those very first plants.  I want to be like those plants. I want to live my life and add my part to it.  To toil in the mud and strife in the world to provide better for the next in line. I want to make sure that my children and their own can live in the best and greatest possible world I can build for them. Becoming an engineer is the most direct way to do this–to build tomorrow.  In the forest, I realized the true role of an engineer.  Engineers create things that make tomorrow so beautiful.  Pollution gone, clean energy there, wonder machines on the way.  I want to build things that make society as beautiful as the forest, one that is without a sea level rise, and with secure and abundant energy. In this world, the next generation won’t have to worry what is going to happen in 30 years. That is the best gift I can ever give to society. That is why I want to be an engineer, to do those same things those first plants did in the forest.

Lance Garrett, accepted at The Coast Guard Academy last year,  is a 2012 graduate of McLean High School in McLean, Va.