The Spirit of Reciprocity: Winners and Finalists
Inspired by the writing of Robin Wall Kimmerer, this contest was an invitation for students to take a photograph or create an original illustration that reflects the spirit of reciprocity and kinship with the living world. A member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Kimmerer’s work draws on the wisdom of plants. She asks, “How, in our modern world, can we find our way to understand the earth as a gift again, to make our relations with the world sacred again?”
As students continue to be challenged by the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, we asked them how they might bear witness and listen to the living world in new ways. Students made keen observations and described that the Covid-19 pandemic allowed them to engage more fully with the living world outside their doorsteps.
We received hundreds of submissions from students around the world. From stories documenting their relationship to their local plants, trees, birds, and land, to discoveries made during quarantine, students have embraced this challenging theme during a tumultuous year. Many students responded to the following excerpt from Kimmerer: “I hope my grandson will always know the other beings as a source of counsel and inspiration, and listen more to butterflies than to bulldozers.” Their original illustrations, a new medium added to this contest, reflect a world in need of protection amid the destruction.
At a time when we need it most, students have expressed care, compassion, and love for our earth, revealing the spirit of reciprocity. “Reciprocity,” writes Kimmerer, “is rooted in the understanding that we are not alone, that the Earth is populated by non-human persons, wise and inventive beings deserving of our respect.” As students viewed the world through this lens, they uncovered an attentiveness to life while discovering new connections to themselves and the places they call home.
Spencer Robinson (17) - North Carolina, U.S.
I have always been fascinated by the night sky. Despite living in a very light-polluted area, I make a point of going out now and then and viewing the night sky. Since Covid-19 began, I have spent more time outside than any other time in my life. I’ve gone on long camping, photography, and hiking trips that would not have been possible without the changes Covid-19 brought about. In this picture, a simple composite, I framed myself against the visible stars that night. There are only a few, a byproduct of the light of our cities. In the coming years, there will be even fewer. I thought about the following quote from Kimmerer: “Living beings are referred to as subjects, never as objects, and personhood is extended to all who breathe and some who don’t. I greet the silent boulder people with the same respect as I do the talkative chickadees.” I wondered why we don’t treat the night sky with the same reverence. It’s a slowly depleting resource. As cities expand, dark skies become less and less common. If we wish to preserve this beautiful resource for our children and grandchildren, we must learn to act with reciprocity when it comes to the natural world around us.
Paula Calatayud (16) - Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
I responded to the following quote by Robin Wall Kimmerer: “Living beings are referred to as subjects, never as objects, and personhood is extended to all who breathe and some who don’t. I greet the silent boulder people with the same respect as I do the talkative chickadees.” I created an Illustration and was specifically inspired by the following phrase from Kimmerer: “personhood is extended to all who breathe and some who don’t.” Inspired by the word extended, I used imagery to extend the roots of a tree so that they surround a pale, green-colored androgynous person whom I created without features. This person could be anyone, creating a direct physical connection between a person and nature through the extension of a form. The plant I chose was a weeping willow. I’ve seen this tree in many places; its form is flowy and helps to show extension since the tree leaves flow downwards. Along with the willow tree, I added a dove perched on a branch to illustrate an animal connection. Doves are symbols of peace and represent unity between the different parts of the natural world.
Bre Ireland (18) - Wisconsin, U.S.
I captured this photo at my grandparents’ house in Northern Wisconsin after sitting patiently in the silence of nature for nearly an hour. The art of nature photography represents the simple reciprocity with nature. By sitting and being a part of the pace of wildlife, you receive the gift of witnessing its true beauty. Photography is a way to share beauty with others. I have found that my best photos of nature are taken when I practice patience. The forest never stops moving if I stand still enough to see it. The art of photography is seeing the smallest points of beauty and capturing it. This glimpse into beauty is a gift for pausing to notice it. It is reciprocity in the most wonderful and simplest sense.
Abigail Getty (17) - Illinois, U.S.
“Living beings are referred to as subjects, never as objects, and personhood is extended to all who breathe and some who don’t. I greet the silent boulder people with the same respect as I do the talkative chickadees,” writes Robin Wall Kimmerer. What happens when the world falls silent? When all falls still? Before this pandemic, we bustled and hustled through life, never looking further than our own field of vision we defined as our world. Our heads were in our phones, our gazes to the ground, untouched by life’s worst. The minute we were yanked from the routine comfort, and into the face of danger, we lost it. Each of us has become numb, terrified, scared, and more awake.
There are the trees to whisper secrets to and the water to awaken your memories, the birds to sing you awake, the frogs to sing you to sleep, the breeze to tickle your face during the day, and the fire to brighten your face in the dark of night. As humanity became isolated, we learned to cherish these things, some we may have never known. These are the fruits of life and they give themselves to us. Humankind has to remember its place in this shared beauty of the world.
Zoya Hussain (17) - Nova Scotia, Canada
“Do we treat the earth as if ki is our relative—as if the earth were animated by being—with reciprocity and reverence, or as stuff that we may treat with or without respect, as we choose?" — Robin Wall Kimmerer
This illustration depicts how humans and nature are connected in many ways; we find peace in nature, yet we continue to destroy it. The skyscrapers, along with the cloud and fog, bring about a dream-like appearance, showing how humans have distanced ourselves. We have our ‘head in the clouds,’ ignoring the consequences of the problems we cause. The buildings are transparent. I could give viewers a glimpse into what’s happening inside the buildings, reflecting on the theme of repression and confinement. People are realizing that they need to change their destructive habits and are trying to escape from the buildings. The buildings situated very close together add a congested and claustrophobic tone to the top half of the work, suggesting that this transition is difficult for people to achieve due to fear or selfishness. There are no landmarks, no personality, and all the buildings are uniform, which leaves this work open to interpretation as it could be any city. This decision is based on today’s digital and modernized world, while the buildings and trees symbolize what supports each way of life (human and non-human) and how we are distancing ourselves from nature. The skyscrapers act as the city’s ‘trees.’
The connection point between the road and the river represents nature trying to make a comeback amid the pandemic. While, at the same time, we are all forced indoors. This could represent how our impact on nature can end up hurting us, such as with climate change and deforestation. I also added fallen trees near where the forest and city meet, showing the deforestation and destruction humans cause to nature to make way for our new industrialized way of life. The river is considerably more fluid than the road, and is connected to the trees by their roots; this shows the isolation within crowded cities and the unity of nature in a balanced environment. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, I have gained a greater appreciation for the rest of the living world. Having the opportunity to stay home and take care of my mental health took me on a journey. I began to spend more time outside, stay up to date with current events, and sign petitions to protect the environment. This thought is connected to my drawing as the people living in those transparent buildings can see everything happening, yet they choose to remain distant and disregard the consequences of taking the earth for granted. The design of the river was inspired by aerial photographs of the Amazon River, on human’s dependence on and exploitation of nature.
The living world is calling out to us, and the very essence of life flows through our veins from every breath of oxygen we take to breathing out the carbon dioxide plants need to continue the cycle. We need only listen by putting Mother Nature first for once, and our prosperity will surely follow.
Mariangel Calixto Alonso (17) - New Jersey, U.S.
We look at flowers, trees, and animals and take pictures of them to capture their beauty. Sometimes we forget the little things like leaves, the texture of the wood on the trees, and the details on the grass and moss. Nature is filled with living organisms that create a cycle of life. Life is all around. Seeing things grow is one of the little things in life we often don't get to appreciate. One plant could be a home for an insect or food to support an insect's cycle. The stories of the moss, the barnacle geese, and the reindeer are something not everyone knows.
Skye Stubbs (17) - Florida, U.S.
The relationship between Indigenous people and nature inspired me to take this photograph. The gentle gesture of the subject resting on the tree speaks volumes, as if they are no different than each other. There is this unspoken respect shown in the photograph that I have seen firsthand between Indigenous people and anything that Mother Earth has provided to us. Being Indigenous, I remember when I would help my mother cook she would always say, "Do not be scared of the fire. You are supposed to respect it." Ironically, we always had an electric stove. However, that never led me away from respecting all things in life. Whether it was cooking under a chickee on a fire, or cooking on an electric stove in a house, I always respected the fire, and it respected me back. Respect goes a long way. We can listen to the living world with our whole selves by simply being close to nature. Go outside and breathe fresh air for a minute or go take a run in a field. Your efforts do not need to be extravagant, they just need to happen. Also, take care of the earth as it does you. It provides you with the air that you breathe and the food that you eat, and all the earth expects back is simple respect.
Maya Hernandez (16) - Florida, U.S.
“Do we treat the earth as if ki is our relative—as if the earth were animated by being—with reciprocity and reverence, or as stuff that we may treat with or without respect, as we choose?”— Robin Wall Kimmerer
Mirrors reflect the truth, the truest version of yourself. This plain chair set upon the neatly trimmed grass with a slight border of fencing is where we supposedly belong. To sit in that chair is to become the you everyone else knows. However, mirrors reflect the truth. On the inside, we are all more akin to the sprawling trees depicted here. This photograph represents the outsider looking in. We see the chair reserved for us within the parameters of the mirror. The twining, sprawling, wild branches of misdirection, and within that, the smallest glimpse of the truth: a grim face that almost blends in with the surroundings. With the trees. With nature. Our natural state.
Allana Appleby (16) - Ohio, U.S.
Look and Listen
Connecting with the world is really good for both humans and nature. There are many ways to listen to the living world with our whole selves. Simply sitting outside and taking it all in is a great way to connect yourself with the world. Doing research on native wildlife and plants, taking care of the planet by picking up trash, planting trees, and making sure that plants and animals have a good place to live and thrive are all great ways to take action. We must listen and take into consideration the living world. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been able to look and listen to the living world from a whole new perspective. Spending so much time at home by myself gave me the time to just sit outside and appreciate the animals and the scenery. My compassion towards the living world has increased tremendously. I now take into consideration that my actions and choices have consequences that will truly affect this world.
Myles Gaffney (17) - California, U.S.
I have been fascinated by plants my entire life and no aspect of their development evokes a greater sense of awe in me than the way in which a newly germinated seedling emerges from the soil. Our family has several large organic gardens spread throughout our property and in large barrels on our rooftop deck. We sow several times a year. I took this macro image earlier this week of a bush bean seedling that grew from a seed I had planted eleven days earlier. In the days following planting, I checked the soil each morning, eager to see whether my seeds would come through for us. After a week with no sign of progress, some doubt crept in. Then, suddenly one day, anxiety turned to elation, as the surface of the soil broke with scores of small seedlings. In this photo, the first true leaves are developing in the center of the plant. The bean seed-shaped cotyledons surround it. They are embryonic leaves that will fall off after a few days, but they provide essential nutrition to the seedling until it can begin to produce energy photosynthetically. The whole process is a thing of wonder.
About fifteen months ago, a ferocious windstorm took down a towering eucalyptus tree in our front yard. Miraculously, no one was hurt, but our family was deeply saddened that a tree that had been growing for many decades, and was older than most of our neighborhood, was gone in seconds. Weeks later, we were still mourning its loss, unsure what to plant in its place, when the Covid pandemic struck. Suddenly, the shelves in stores were bare and it became nearly impossible to find fresh vegetables beyond what we could harvest from our own garden. We looked at the bare space in the yard vacated by the eucalyptus and knew what to do. We built trellises and cages and planted pole beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, and blueberries. We doubled the size of our planted area, and we’ve had enough fresh vegetables throughout the pandemic to share with friends and neighbors. We lost a mighty tree, but we will always honor its memory in our eucalyptus garden. The bean seedling in the image has emerged through soil that is teeming with life—from microscopic organisms to nightcrawler worms. Not a scrap of food waste in our household makes it to the landfill; it is all composted. My worm farm has expanded from one large bin to seven this past year. Thousands of wiggler worms break down the waste and decaying plants into bioavailable nutrients that help each round of crops flourish. I peer into the marvelous world of these creatures each day as I feed them. Our relationship is one of reciprocity in the truest sense. Both the bean seeding and I are grateful for it.
Monika Łazar (17) - Rzeszów, Poland
Plants and living creatures can be our greatest teachers and mentors as soon as we open our hearts and eyes to witness the beauty and the diversity they have created over the millions of years of their existence. They have survived hurricanes, storms, droughts, fires, and floods. Thanks to them, every morning our lungs fill with oxygen, our plates fill with food, and animals’ bodies are given energy. They use that energy to reproduce, pollinate flowers, and spread seeds. Living beings play a crucial part in teaching us how to look out for each other and how to coexist in a world full of atrocity and selfishness.
Plants and animals help us realize that the only way to survive is not to abuse one another, but to focus on mutual flourishing, living in peace with each other and living in the spirit of equality and reciprocity. To listen to the living world with our whole selves means to acknowledge the past and understand our purpose. We should cherish the living world with our hands just as branches of the trees shelter billions of living creatures. Although we may not look alike, we serve the same purpose. We can uphold each other. Understanding that mosses and ferns are just as alive as tigers and sharks allow us to open our minds to notice similarities and kinship between living creatures, which is the most genuine way of listening and discovering the world.
Kunsh Puranik (18) - Lombardia, Italy
There are two sides in this photo. The right half of the image represents nature, while the left half represents humans. As seen in the image, both the human and the symbol of nature are at an equal height. This represents balance and coexistence with nature. The Covid-19 pandemic gave me time to reflect on our relationship with Mother Nature. In my opinion, it is impossible to continue living if we treat our flora and fauna with such disrespect. We must coexist with nature and a significant part of that is adjusting our lifestyles and imitating nature. In the image, the person holding the conical funnel represents an adaptation and imitation of nature [the bird]. Humans have abused the environment for too long now and it's time we show nature the same respect we show our elders. It is only through balance that prosperity will be sustained and the light of life will shine bright.
Ruby Penner (17) - Vernon, BC Canada
A New Subject
“Living beings are referred to as subjects, never as objects, and personhood is extended to all who breathe and some who don’t. I greet the silent boulder people with the same respect as I do the talkative chickadees.” — Robin Wall Kimmerer
The focus of an image is referred to as the subject. Subjects are usually people. However, the subject does not always have to be human. The ancient trees should be granted the same respect that people receive. Nature commands our focus. In this image, an ancient cedar tree captivates the same attention a human would. It has limbs holding a delicate bouquet of baby’s breath as if it is a person posing for a portrait. The soft sunbeams encompass the tree with a soft hug as if the sun just can’t help but be near. The gentle soul of this elegant cedar is brought forth when it claims its title as the subject.
How may we listen to the living world with our whole selves?
Wrap your arms around a tree, let it feel your pulse.
May your hearts beat in unison.
Let the water flow through your fingers, feel the way it glides.
May you move as it moves.
Have the wind blow through your arms, listen to it breathe.
May you follow its breaths. Bask in the sun, feel its warmth.
May you be inspired by its light.
May you one day treat nature as you would a person.
We must learn to respect nature as it deserves. Hug the trees. Feel the water. Hear the wind. Stand in the light. Instead of just receiving the gifts nature offers. We must learn to give back.
Rose Lehrman (17) - Michigan, U.S.
I have always been fascinated by bird nests. When I was younger, I would try to make them on my own but, unsurprisingly, I never could quite manage to. The technique, time, and effort that a bird puts into building a nest is something that I try to emulate in my artistic practice. I’m a filmmaker and the work that I do often involves weaving random pieces of stuff together into something beautiful. A bird can see the value in a single piece of thread or a piece of trash. I think that is something we should all aspire to. I found this nest at a particularly low point in my life. It was a reminder that good things take time to build.
The living world is constantly telling us what it needs, but often, we don’t listen. Taking the time out of our day to put everything down and be in nature is something that a lot of people don’t make time to do. As humans, it is our responsibility to fight for a more equitable world where everyone can take the time to connect with the living earth that we are all a part of. We have a responsibility to fight against the corporations and oil magnates who are knowingly causing harm to this planet that we all call home. We already know what the living world is saying. Listening to it is another matter altogether.
Juan Pablo Terán González (18) - Mexico City, Mexico
“I hope my grandson will always know the other beings as a source of counsel and inspiration, and listen more to butterflies than to bulldozers.” — Robin Wall Kimmerer
I resonate with this excerpt from Robin Wall Kimmerer because it makes me feel connected to the reality of life. I think about who we are and the meaning of our existence. Human beings are mosaics. We have our core part, the original and authentic design that we are, but as mosaics, we are made up of several faces. The people we have known and loved and the nature surrounding us have their way of leaving a little of them inside us. Each person you see in life has something to offer you. Whether it is the person you see every day at the bus stop or the butterfly flying near a flower, learning to let ourselves be impressed and see ourselves included in the world opens all kinds of appreciation for life. Today, while we can still choose, we must decide to silence the noise of the great corporate company that seems to eat the world’s humanity. We must listen to the world and nature, feel it, and understand the story that it tells. We must simply enjoy its fleeting and ephemeral ambiguity.
When the Covid pandemic hit, it stopped the world. Faced with uncertainty, it gave us the opportunity to observe, to feel, and more than anything, to value the world. When we do not own the world, we are one with it. We were able to interrupt the rush of the day-to-day and enjoy being in the sun or barefoot on the grass. These are little things that we overlook and pay no attention to because they are present every day. We were able to miss the feeling of the sand and the sea under our feet; we were able to miss the sense of bewilderment when a drop of rain fell on our bodies and the calm feeling the heat of the sun brings when being on the street. We all believe that the pandemic came when we were living the best moment of our lives, but perhaps it came at the right moment to make us wake up from the automaton reality that we were living in.
In the journey that each one has in life, I do not think it is correct to think that it is our history in which animals and nature contribute, but that we all make a single story and each one plays their role by being one more person in the world, but in the same way unique. Within this everyone can discover and complement the world and its various components. Be the character to develop in your story and the complementary character that helps to grow in the stories of others.
I like to think that we can listen to the living world through our bodies and our emotions. I like being able to hear with my body, letting go of what is most “important” for the modern world, and holding on to the senses and everything that stimulates them.
Ellie Lint (18) - Montana, U.S.
Reciprocity is embodied by the idea that we must learn to give back to the world we take so much from. When we encounter nature every day, we take advantage of it instead of realizing all that Mother Earth gives us. On a cloudy day in May of 2020, an osprey carrying a massive trout landed on a tree branch right in front of my bedroom window. I slowly and carefully crept across my lawn up towards the base of the tree until I finally got the shot I was waiting for. In any other normal year, I would be in a concrete building sitting through a class, but Covid had put me into online school. Although Covid has taken a lot from me, I would have never had the chance to take one of the best pictures I've ever taken.
Mickaël Raufaste (15) - California, U.S
I took this picture with my drone in Sugar Loaf, Santa Rosa. It was a couple months after the wildfires from last October. This hill was negatively affected by the wildfires and I wanted to show how well nature has recovered so far. If you look closely, you can see my mom in the middle of the picture as the main subject surrounded by the burnt trees. The sun was setting at the time and the sky was pink and beautiful. The view was amazing. We had a very good time hiking there together. It was peaceful and all we could hear was the birds in the distance along with the loud buzzing of my drone. The pandemic allowed us to go on more hikes like this one and I enjoyed all of them.
Andrea Trejo (18) - Metepec, Mexico
La nervadura de una hoja, líneas paralelas o sin rumbo que sobresalen de su piel, se encarga de circular la savia y conectar cada rincón de la planta. Mis venas, caminos sin fin alguno por los cuales circula mi sangre, desde el corazón hasta la punta de mis dedos. Tú y yo no somos tan diferentes, nos unen líneas interminables, por lo que cuando intento escucharte lo hago como si tú fueras yo, se que un rayito de sol en la mañana te da energía para seguir todo el día y que escuchar una melodía te hace bailar, lo sé porque esas cosas hacen que se acelere mi corazón y que siga fluyendo por mis venas aquello que me mantiene con vida, y así como funciono yo, lo haces tú.
La única diferencia es que yo dependo de ti, pero tú no de mi.
The leaf rib, parallel lines with no guide to follow that bulge from its skin, is in charge of circulating the sap connecting every corner of the plant. My veins, paths with no ends that fulfill their function by taking the blood from my heart to the tip of my fingers. You and I, we are not so different at all, we are connected by unending lines. When I try to listen to you, I have in mind that you are me. I know that a sunbeam every morning gives you enough energy until the day ends and that listening to music makes you dance. I know this because these things make my heartbeat go faster and keep me alive, flowing in my veins. Just the way my body works, so does yours.
Our difference is that you can live without me, but I cannot live without you.
Mayarae Taylor M (17) - Colorado, U.S.
Our hearts beat one and the same.
The will of tranquility is finite and still.
You can hear the sounds of energy flowing through the quiet silence.
Despondency has made its way into the lungs of so many, but not you.
You hear the notes playing a song of reverence.
Among the roar of inferno, there is something speaking to you softly.
You bind from root to feet, becoming something greater than what’s around you.
A blueprint of serenity, all by looking at the small things.
You blossom and bud alongside the entity of life.
It tells you of all that has been lost, but also all that is yet to gain.
Warmth becomes you. You become the future.
Eternity is only ever what comes next.
Daniella Tsuji (14) - California, U.S.
I wanted to draw something a little bit out of my comfort zone: a person that's "one" with the things around them. When I refer to getting out of my comfort zone, I mean attempting an art style that is new to me. It was only two weeks ago that I adopted a new way of drawing.
In what ways can we listen to the living world with our whole selves? We can enjoy the things around us, knowing that everything could change over time. Enjoy things while they last and make memories.
Haley Gipson (17) - Michigan, U.S.
I decided to take this picture of myself on the last day of my two-week-long quarantine. My roommate and I were isolated together in our tiny high school dorm room after discovering that both our suitemates tested positive for Covid-19. It was a scary time waiting for the phone call every morning with our test results to see if we too were infected, but thankfully that call never came. During that time, we were very restricted when it came to leaving our rooms. Our meals were brought to us and our only opportunities to go outside depended on the escort of staff members.
Never in my life have I longed more for the freedom that comes with being outside by myself. My roommate and I always left the window open for ventilation, mostly out of fear from the virus spreading from the adjacent room to ours. We were lucky enough to have a window with a view of cabins shaded by trees behind our residence hall. What amazed me was how our moods lifted from simply drawing the blinds and letting the sunlight pour in. The familiar call of black-capped chickadees and the smell of dewy grass made us smile. The houseplants that I had brought with me for a little piece of home sat on the window sill. Watering them every day and talking to them helped me keep my sanity. The beautiful interconnected world of living things I saw every day outside my window reminded me that I was part of something bigger than my problems. My quarantine experience made me respect nature in a new way because the trees and birds had become my friends. The first day after my quarantine was over, I took a long walk outside and talked to my parents on the phone. I told them about the little gifts I received from my window and how grateful I was to be outside again. From this appreciation grew my desire to continue the chain of reciprocity through small actions. By caring for my houseplants and sending my love to the living beings beyond my window, I silently thank my greatest supporters.
Shelly Fatal (16) - New York, U.S.
Flesh and Earth
In creating my illustration, I aimed to portray plants as worthy of respect and humanity. By utilizing flesh tones in the color palette, I displayed how plants are made of the same building blocks as humans and animals. Thus, they are worthy of the same altruism and sympathy. This is a lesson that I have learned during the pandemic, as I have been spending more time in nature. Being outdoors has served as a veritable escape from stress, which has changed the way I view my relationship with the living world. Instead of regarding time spent in nature as a chore, I look forward to going on walks and watching the change of seasons. While I am not grateful for the significant losses that the pandemic has brought, I find that it has allowed my compassion for the living world to grow by encouraging me to develop mindfulness for the environment around me.
Gabe Marusic (17) - Ohio, U.S.
Bought and Sold
Reciprocity is a two way road, and yet we have treated our Earth like a one-way highway, one in which we take everything without giving back. During the Covid-19 pandemic, I began to go on more walks as I found being in nature one of the best ways to escape from the hustle and bustle of the world. On one of these walks I found this sign and felt a strange irony in finding it in a forested area and decided to capture the emotion I felt behind it. In my photo, Bought and Sold, I try to capture the idea of how people often find they have the right to buy and sell nature to other people. I find that the harsh black and white film I used captures the raw emotion behind the ideas of this photo, as well as the natural sunset lighting that was used. The sign reads “sale pending,” implying the sale has not even happened yet, and yet the land is still being reserved rather than enjoyed by people. If we as people want to remain on this planet, maintaining a true relationship of reciprocity with the Earth is essential. When we just take from the Earth and never give back, we slowly kill the Earth. I found the following quote from Kimmerer especially relevant, “Birds, bugs, and berries are spoken of with the same respectful grammar as humans are.” It relates to the idea of nature and humans all being interconnected as one rather than being the two separate entities we paint them as. People tend to cut up and sell this planet we all share, but this is not our job. It was simply one we convinced ourselves we had.
Isabel Mendoza (17) - Villa Verdun, Mexico
“I hope my grandson will always know the other beings as a source of counsel and inspiration, and listen more to butterflies than to bulldozers.” — Robin Wall Kimmerer
Flying beautifully, like a butterfly
It's an ethereal sight, a dream-like komorebi. The clean, fresh air of the forest, along with so many wings flapping and a river-like sound, fills the space. This is one of the most beautiful moments in my life in a place where dreaming and wishing were allowed. The migratory phenomenon of the Monarch butterfly is one of the most extraordinary and mind-blowing trajectories of a living organism. Every autumn, they abandon their breeding grounds in Canada and Northern U.S. for millions to arrive in Mexico, flying far away from the cold to a place where the temperature allows them to recharge energy. When the time comes, they go north once more. Getting to the north can take between three and four generations to complete. With unique abilities of direction and navigation, they only need good temperature with sunlight, water, and trees to rest on. It's us who need to make sure they go unbothered, but we have failed to do so. The number of monarchs each day is decreasing. This is caused by the disappearance of milkweeds, in which they lay their eggs, and climate change.
When I had the opportunity to visit the butterflies in Sierra Chincua, I realized the beauty of nature and how isolated the cities are. One may think the opposite, that in the middle of the forest you are in the middle of nowhere, but that's not true. When you stand in a place full of life, you are connected with yourself and accompanied by music, stories, love, dreams ,and wonder. Listening to the living world is much simpler than you think; it comes naturally if you let yourself go. It's when you are able to open your heart and mind, realizing we are not the only ones on this planet that you are finally starting to listen. You may lose yourself between hearing and listening. To find the difference, you need to learn about the world and its organisms. You don't have to be an expert—just treat it carefully. This planet gives us the warmth of a mother and the embrace and protection we need. If she always carries us on her back, and we don't start using our legs, she will get tired and we will both fall. If we choose to listen to our destruction instead of her stories, there will be no more future for her other daughters and sons...for our daughters and sons.
Bailey Seaton (16) - Florida, U.S.
I have always been fascinated with reflections. I was walking in New York City and saw a circular mirror, the kind used to keep one safe from running into someone or from attack. Before taking the picture, I took note of the setting. I saw all the lines intersecting towards the mirror: the sharp lines of the awnings, the metal pole, and the buildings off in the distance. The living tree rests outside this awning, twisting and adjusting itself to the lifeless metal and concrete city. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, I might not have taken this shot. But when I look at how trees struggle for life in the concrete jungle of New York City, it made me think of the struggle for life in the human race, how this struggle to overcome the pandemic rewarded the planet in unexpected ways, and how air quality improved and animals and plants flourished. There are two central living beings (me and the tree). We are the central subjects, not objects. The living and the inanimate are juxtaposed against each other, converging at the center point, the mirror, the point of reflection. The reflection in the circular mirror of the circular world shows life the way it is, the way it should be—mankind, plant kind, and lifeless buildings existing equally.
Walker Wilson (15) - North Carolina, U.S.
The day I took this photo it was very bright outside. At first, I thought I would leave the photo as it was with color. But instead, I decided to add a twist to it. I figured black and white would compliment each other well. One thing that I learned throughout the pandemic is that the little things matter. The most basic things that you normally wouldn't pay attention to have more meaning. When setting up for this photo, I had to find the right angle. It took me a little bit, but in the end, I settled on this one because it makes the tree look "alive." The pandemic has made me more aware of the living world. In my free time I like to go out in nature and find unique perspectives that I can photograph.
Artist statements have been lightly edited.