Fear to Love. My Relationship With Nature – Da Chen (Parks Canada)

By: Da Chen, Parks Canada

Hi everyone! My name is Da Chen and I am a recent graduate from the University of Toronto Scarborough. I have worked for Parks Canada over the last 4 summers in various positions and was part of the 2017-2018 Parks Canada Northern Engagement Team. I was also the former Parks Canada campus club leader at the University of Toronto Scarborough. I have a deep appreciation and love for the Canadian outdoor and would love to have more people learning and protecting these amazing places.

Nature and I had an interesting relationship. This might surprise some friends, but I haven’t always been fond of nature. I grew up in a small town in southern China and I remember visiting my grandparents in the countryside and not liking the forest. At that time, I was afraid of the outdoor and what lurked in the dark. Back then, nature was a place of fear and a place to avoid. After immigrating to Canada when I was 7, most of the fear remained. My parents were busy working and I didn’t have many chances to visit or learn about nature.

However, everything changed when I was in Grade 6. That year, I had a week-long class trip to a place called Kearney, a campground that was located just south of the Algonquin Provincial Park. While there, I had my first experience of being in nature. I saw the beautiful night sky with the planets and the stars in the distance. I was also fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis in the horizon and learned so much about the Canadian outdoor. That trip truly changed my perception of nature and planted the seed of love and passion. Over the last 12 years of my life, my love for nature has became something important and dear to my me.

This year, the importance of nature and conservation has been deeply engraved in my heart. As part of the Parks Canada Northern Engagement team, I was fortunate enough to participate with the 2017 Students on Ice Arctic Expedition. Throughout the expedition, I learned so much from the 200 students and educators onboard the expedition ship. I was especially fortunate to have met over 40 Inuit youths and elders from the Arctic. They shared their stories about their land, their culture and their connections to nature. These interactions really helped me gain a better grasp of what conservation really mean and the importance of protecting our natural heritages.

 I also had the privilege of being a part of two important announcement. First, I was at Resolute Bay for the declaration of the Qausuittuq National Park. Then a few days later, I was at Pond Inlet for the declaration of the boundary of Tallurutiup Imanga or Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation area. These two newly declared protected areas will be crucial in perserving the habitats of species such as Peary Caribou, Narwhals and many others. What made these protected areas more special is that they were designed in collaboration with the Inuit to ensure these areas would continue to provide for the Inuit communities in the present and the future.

My experiences up North created a deeper connection to nature. Seeing the glaciers, the mountains, the animals and the Inuit’s way of life, I felt a magical feeling that cannot be describe by words. It was an emotional and spiritual feeling that I never experienced before, and it really deepened my appreciation and love for Mother Nature.

A week after my Arctic expedition, I had the honour to be a part of the Canadian delegation to the 4th International Marine Protected Area Congress (IMPAC4) held in Chile. I attended the conference with 8 other Students on Ice alumni and 2 Students on Ice staffs. While in Chile, I met people from around the world and heard so much inspiring and passionate stories of conservation and community engagement. I learned about amazing initiatives ranging from the world’s youngest park managers in the French Polynesia to the conservation works in Cuba to learning about the management of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It was a crazy week of learning and sharing and being immersed in an amazing environment.

My time in Chile really taught me many things, from the importance of working together towards building a sustainable future to the importance of being immersed in nature. The importance of being in nature was shown on the 4th day of the conference. On that day, our youth delegation held a workshop regarding youth engagement in marine conservation. One of the topic we discussed was the motivations and inspirations behind our involvement in marine conservation. One common theme throughout the workshop was the importance of visiting or growing up around nature. Many marine biologists, teachers and conservationists from around the world looked back on their early childhood interactions with nature as the main motivation behind the works they do. These deep conversations and stories they shared were eye-opening  and allowed me to learn so much more about how nature can change and inspire the next generation.

Coming back from all these life changing journeys, I am currently reflecting and thinking about what I can do. I have recently completed a report on Youth Engagement on Marine Conservation with my co-worker Caroline Merner. We shared the report with our friends from around the world and hope that the suggestions we made would be helpful to engage more youths from around the world.  I am also sharing my travel experiences with students at my university and hopefully will be able to inspire and encourage more of them to be in nature. I am also creating new an interactive sound program to engage and inspire the next generation of environmentalists.

I know there are many readers out there that are doing amazing things in protecting our world! I just want to say Thank You!! You are all an inspiration!

To those who might be unsure about the outdoor and are fearful, don’t worry!  I know how you feel. You just need to give nature a chance and you will eventually fall in love! There are a few things you can do. You can start with a tree-plant excursion somewhere close to home or it can also be a hiking trip in your neighbourhood park. You can also download different apps on your phone such as the INaturalist to observe and learn about nature. These are all easy ways to be engaged with the outdoor and learn about them. I promise you that slowly over time, your fear of nature will slowly disappear, and you will quickly grow to love and appreciate it and all it has to offer.

Nature and I really came a long way. I went from a fearful boy who avoided nature to someone who is deeply in love and passionate about it. I know many of you are still afraid and have reservations. All I can say is, have no fear and embrace the love! ????


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