Youth Essay Contest Winner
Elizabeth Bruner, Blairsville, Pa., 11th grade
When I was 5-years-old, I asked my parents what the black, round things were scattered all over the lane to our farm. They told me they were black walnuts and could be cleaned, cracked and the meat inside could be eaten. Ever since then, I’ve been fascinated with nature and the magnificent world in which we live.
The wilds of nature have offered me a unique business venture. Once I found out about black walnuts, I began collecting and processing them. Our family developed a way to husk and wash simultaneously about 8,000 black walnuts per hour by adapting an old corn sheller, mounted on a trailer, and run by a tractor power take off. Once clean, the nuts are dried and hand cracked using a special device. These half and sometimes whole pieces are used by local bakers and friends, especially around the holidays. The smaller pieces which cannot be eaten are pressed to extract oil. Black walnut oil is a hot commodity used in the massage industry as well as cooking, specifically in dressings. The discards after pressing can be mixed with lard to make suet cakes for the birds.
The outdoors has provided my family with other sustenance. There are so many things I’ve harvested from nature. I fly fish for trout in our local streams. We preserve and cook both large and small game animals we hunt such as whitetail deer, wild turkey, ringneck pheasant, and Eastern gray squirrels. We pick wild blackberries, elderberries, black raspberries, and morel mushrooms to eat. And we collect other types of nuts for consumption – butternuts, Chinese chestnuts, and shagbark hickory nuts, to name a few.
When life gets crazy, nature helps me to re-center. It’s a way to relax and rejuvenate. I enjoy hiking in the woods and capturing memories through photography. Whether looking from a worm’s eye view of the world, or down with a bird’s eye view, there is always something new and exciting on which to focus – squirrels jumping from log to log, the sky filled with falling leaves of many colors, great blue herons wading in shallow waters searching for a meal, a pair of mallard ducks swimming ahead of six little ducklings. Another way our family uses nature to reconnect is by trail riding on horseback. I often ride my paint pony named Chief through the woods listening to the crunch of the leaves under his hooves and to the birds calling above me.
Because I want these memories to live forever and for future generations to enjoy, I want to leave nature in better shape than I found it. I volunteer with my local Trout Unlimited chapters during the spring and fall conducting macroinvertebrate surveys, water quality testing, and habitat assessments. In addition, I collect data for the Evergreen Conservancy, a local organization with the goal to conserve the environment.
I’ve been involved in several activities that have shaped me into the person I am today. First is the 4-H program. Through completing wildlife, forestry, and aquatics projects, I’ve qualified to represent Pennsylvania at the National 4-H Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Program in Junction City, Kansas. I was able to observe a true prairie habitat, the Flint Hills region, and learn how to manage that type of ecosystem. The second activity is the Wildlife Leadership Academy (WLA). I’ve participated in all their field schools including Brookies (brook trout), Bass, Ursids (black bear), Bucktails (Whitetail deer), Gobblers (wild turkey), and Drummers (ruffed grouse). I’ve worked my way up from a student, to assistant team leader, to academy support team. WLA has helped to develop my leadership and public speaking skills and provide an outlet to make important connections with agencies. I’m currently president of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Youth Council for Hunting, Fishing, and Conservation. Serving in this role has helped me understand how important conservation legislative issues really are and how much of an impact a youth voice can make. Lastly, one of my favorite activities has been attending the Rivers Conservation and Fly Fishing Youth Camp sponsored by Trout Unlimited. There, I caught my first trout on a fly rod. After that experience, you could say, I was hooked.All of these organizations have given me breadth and depth of knowledge that will benefit me long into the future.
Being outdoors, whether in a fresh water stream or in a woody forest, has helped to carve out a career path I intend to pursue. My goal is to become a wildlife biologist and travel the world to study nature: aquatic, terrestrial, and plant life. From my earliest recollections, the forces of nature have had a positive impact on me and, as the 4-H motto states, I believe in “Making the Best Better” both in my backyard and beyond.