Standing in the street, I tell myself to hold my breath and it will get better. Although I had learned in psychology class the idea of sensory adaptation—that breathing in the fumes would eventually adapt my sense to the smell—I couldn’t help but hold my breath. I close my eyes, standing behind this idling truck, and I’m taken back to a moment in time.
Sitting in a tent, 8 years old, I take a deep breath and close my eyes. Ten Earth Ranger campers are packed into an enclosed tent, surrounding a twig-filled metal bucket. “Imagine a world where you must pay for oxygen,” says the counselor. “A world where oxygen is sold in tanks, like gasoline from the station.” Imagining this far off world, I smell something burning. I open my eyes, see twigs on fire, and smoke filling the enclosed tent. When campers begin to cough, the counselor passes a gas mask around and directs each camper to take a deep breath through the mask and pass it along. She explains what will happen if society continues destroying the environment. I panic. I can’t breathe. I’m going to suffocate. She unzips the tent door and we exit. I am relieved beyond imagination. Breathe in. Breathe out. You are alive. You can breathe.
From the summers of 2004-2009, I attended a local park district camp at Emily Oaks Nature Center. As a camp for kids who loved to be outdoors, activities ranged from canoeing to hiking to camping and building fires. I learned about the environment and nature from an innocent child’s perspective, and I was forever scarred with the memory of that activity.
Due to its frightening and dangerous nature, that activity was never again done at the camp; but, I think I was taught a truly important lesson. Standing in the streets of New York, I often times wish I have a mask to wear to breathe in untainted oxygen. “It’s nice to be home and breathe in fresh air,” my sister says every times she visits Chicago from New York. The world my camp counselor demonstrated is not that far off. It’s much closer to home than it may seem to most people.