While great writers like William Wordsworth and Henry David Thoreau are long dead, their appreciation of nature still lives on in the hearts and the writings of many area high school students.
Niagara County Community College brings that to light annually when its Environmental Task Force hosts an essay contest, inviting area juniors and seniors to submit personal accounts of their special places in the natural world and their regard for it.
On Wednesday, five students were honored at the college for their efforts, all hailing from Newfane and North Tonawanda high schools. Their winning essays are published in "About Place 2007," a book that has been published for the past seven years by the college and the NCCC Foundation.
Natalie R. Kappus, a 16-year-old junior at Newfane, took first place for her essay about a small historical cemetery that she visits when she goes to Cambridge, Mass., each summer.
In "The Cemetery: A Union of Man and Nature," Natalie extols the peace and calm of the old cemetery with its trees and weathered tombstones, all embedded in a bustling city landscape.
"This is such a secluded, isolated place that's in the middle of a city. It's nice to go to sometimes because it has such a quiet, peaceful atmosphere. It's like an oasis, a place to relax. And it's so historical with all the Revolutionary [War] figures [buried] there," Kappus told The Buffalo News.
The essay describes the cemetery's beauty in spite of it being "encapsulated by purely unnatural elements," blemished by "the backs of old houses and churches . . . fences . . . parked cars . . . and the street that runs beside it."
While Natalie appreciates the cemetery's natural beauty, she's also philosophical: "A cemetery seems such a non-natural environment, yet there is no other place so unifying between man and nature, the symbolic and literal return of our bodies to the earth, dust after death."
Cassandra B. Johnson, 17, a North Tonawanda senior, came in second with "Widow," an essay about her favorite woods and her favorite tree she always visits. She met the tree at an early age and has always called it "Widow" because she misunderstood her mother when she told her it was a willow tree.
"I tried to make my place personal [in the essay] because I wanted people to get a little piece of me when they read it. I love that woods and that tree. I'm really inspired by that area. It's really pretty and its a good place to relax," she said.
Newfane's David G. Nasca, a 16-year-old junior, took third place with his lament about the cherry orchard next to his home that was cut down to make room for a housing development.
Sara E. Pogorzelski and Elizabeth R. Sanderson, both 18 and North Tonawanda seniors, got honorable mentions for their essays concerning, respectively, nature's destruction of trees in Delaware Park last October, and the majestic journey of a deer crossing a Thousand Islands area waterway.
Natalie won the $350 prize; Cassandra, $250; and David, $150. The prize money was provided by the Buffalo Audubon Society. NCCC's Peggy Elliott coordinated the "About Place 2007" project. Emily Owens, a Niagara-Wheatfield High School tenth-grader, drew the cover art for the publication.
About 20 essays from about 19 schools in Erie, Niagara and Orleans counties were submitted by officials from different school districts for the final competition.