Growing up in a first world country, such as the United States, I have become accustomed to a fast paced, high tech life in which nature is hardly an afterthought. Growing up in an upper-middle-class home I have had access to a great number of technologies even as a child. TVs, phones, video games and so many other things that took up all my time and prevented me from going outside to really experience nature. It was difficult to develop a relationship with nature when I hardly knew anything about it. It would not be until my senior year of high school when I began to actually build my relationship with nature and it would take me getting to college to begin understanding the true value of nature and what it does for us.
It was not until I was a senior in high school when I was forced to develop my relationship with nature. During spring break my friends and I would travel to Turkey, a nation that had a very different culture and history compared to the US. We took the trip to Turkey as part of a program meant to educate young American students on middle eastern culture and was sponsored by a popular Turkish newspaper. Our trip lasted about ten days with everything besides the plane tickets being covered. We landed in Istanbul and the first thing that struck me was how similar it was to Chicago while at the same time being so different. It had all the modern technological advances I had become familiar with but also had things such as gardens in seemingly random places in the busy parts of the city. They reminded me of many small Central Parks stuck in seemingly random areas throughout the city. Another thing that amazed me was how old some of the buildings and structures were, many were older than the United States itself. Our guide told us that they kept the old buildings as cultural artifacts and the gardens so that people could have a place to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and have a quiet place to meditate or simply relax. That was something that was either very rare or completely nonexistent here in the US. We have forest preserves and parks but the parks here are full of artificial structures, they are hardly natural. Our guide took us to one of these gardens located near the Hagia Sophia and had us meditate for a while. We were told that this particular garden was special as it had exotic species of birds and even a stream flowing through it. It also belonged to the old Sultans who would come here to get away from their political affairs. Even the few minutes we spent meditating on the grass felt surreal, it was not a feeling I’d ever experienced back home.
While in Turkey we also visited a village across the Turkish strait from Istanbul. It took us about four hours to reach the village which was nestled on top of a mountain. The trip to the village itself was an experience that I wished I would write my thesis about and this trip would not end. It consisted of us taking a bus through the countryside, then a ferry across the strait, then another bus through a Mediterranean forest and finally a ski lift that took us to the top of the mountain. Unlike Istanbul, there wasn’t much traffic or noise but there was an abundant amount of nature and not just gardens. The village was famous for growing strawberries and for the fresh water produced by melting snow that would come cascading down the mountainside into areas designed to collect the water. We stopped at a small family owned strawberry farm to see if we could buy any, the family, since we were foreigners, offered to give us some for free and even invited us to dinner, which we, unfortunately, had to refuse. Our guide would later tell us that the farmer wanted to introduce us to his daughters. The strawberries were as good as the one’s back in the states with the added benefits that they were made without any GMOs or chemicals. The only thing better than the strawberries was the fresh water. It was easily the most refreshing water I’ve ever had and, it did not take a huge factory processing system or added minerals to make it taste amazing, all it took was melting snow. According to the locals, the water was able to cure diseases and was healthier than water found anywhere else. While I can’t speak for the water’s health benefits, I do know that snowmelt contains essential nutrients it gains through natural processes that other forms of drinking water might lack (Aas & Bogen 1988). What amazed me the most about the water was how easily accessible it was, all we had to do was walk out of our hotel and up to the mountain side and there it would be, flowing down perfectly clean and fresh, free of pollutants. Even the local mosque, instead of having faucets, simply had an opening in the ceiling that allowed the water to enter which congregates used for ceremonial cleansing. Climate change poses a grave danger to the snowmelt produced by the mountains in Turkey. As global temperatures rise snow pack on mountains decrease particularly in the spring and autumn. If the climate continues to warm up, we risk losing the source of this water. (Barnhart et al. 2016)
My trip to Turkey was an eye opening experience. It gave me an entirely different viewpoint of nature that I would have never considered if I stayed in the US my entire life. It was probably the first time I actually thought about the natural world and its effect on me and me on it. It would also inspire me to learn more about nature and led me to a better understanding of climate change which would ultimately influence me to major in environmental science at Benedictine University. The trip I took also influenced me to try and travel more so that I may experience nature in other parts of the world as well. The amazing thing about Turkey is that it’s a first world country just like the US and has the same types of modern technology we possess here; however, they have not lost their connection with nature. Even in large urban centers like Istanbul, there are areas that exist solely so that the people can continue to connect with nature if they choose to do so. What amazed me the most about Turkey was not the many sights or attractions it offers but simply the water we saw at the village on the mountain. I never knew that something I took for granted and was as simple as water could be so amazing. There wasn’t any large factory processing the water and then bottling it up to sell, there was just pure water produced by natural processes and freely available for all to use as they wished. These were the natural sights and experiences that made me realize how much of the world I was missing and how amazing the natural world is.