Amazing Kids! Magazine

With New Eyes

By Jason Liang, age 14, Massachusetts

 

I opened the book, and out slipped a photograph. A smile formed on my lips as I glanced down. That photo had been taken about 12 years ago. I bent down and picked it up. There I was, with Dad, taking a selfie with Othaka Falls right behind us, both of us grinning wildly. I can still hear the sound of the water crashing down from above with perfect clarity. That day was one of the best of my life. In fact, I remember it so clearly that I can relive it in my head.

I close my eyes and let my mind focus. Slowly, a scene begins to formulate in my head. It is my living room. I am there, sitting in my comfy chair in front of my gaming computer. I’m leaning forward. My eyes bulge out of their sockets as I stare at the screen. My hands bash buttons on my controller rapidly. My teeth are clenched. Sweat drips down my nose.

“Come on. Come on,” I mutter under my breath.

“Nick, it’s a nice day today. I was thinking it’d be wonderful to go outside. What do you think?” Dad’s voice comes in from the kitchen.

I don’t bother to respond. “Come on,” I continue to mutter. My concentration is all on the computer screen.

Dad walks into the room. “Nick? I asked you a question.”

“Go away!” I roar. “Can’t you see I’m busy here?!”

“Beep! Boop! Zzz!”

I stare in disbelief. No! No! I couldn’t have lost.

“Dad!” I yell as I stand up. “Look what you’ve done!”

“Nick. Calm down, take a deep breath. You shouldn’t be like this. You’ve been playing all morning, and I haven’t even seen you get up to eat, drink, or use the restroom. There’s more to life than your stupid video games.”

“They’re not stupid. Besides, if I want to compete in a video game competition someday, I have to practice—a lot.”

Dad takes a deep breath. “Anyway. I looked outside this morning. The sun is shining, and the flowers are dancing, so I think we should go outside. After all, it’s Sunday, so the Othaka Falls Natural Reserve will have free admission today.”

“Sounds dumb.”

“Tell you what…if we go there and you really, honestly don’t like it, then I’ll buy you one of those $10 Steam gift cards for your games.”

“Make it $20,” I request greedily.

“You got yourself a deal, Nick,” Dad says as he ruffles my hair. “Now meet me in the car in about 15 minutes, and please change out of your pajamas!”

And that was how I found myself in our car and going to the first natural reserve I ever went to. Today, I would have been so excited to go there. But that year, it was a total nightmare for me.

Once again, I think back to that day. There I am, stepping out of the car and seeing the entrance to the natural reserve. There’s a large gate at the entrance with big words carved on it: Welcome to Othaka Falls. I can see enormous trees behind the gate.

“Looks stupid,” I mutter.

“Just you wait,” Dad says.

We stroll through the gate, and I instantly notice that the ground isn’t paved anymore. Instead, I am walking on stones and dirt. As we continue on, the ground begins to seem more mushy and muddy. I start noticing some puddles in the ground.

Suddenly, Dad stops. “Nick…shush…come here…slowly…don’t want you scaring it by accident.”

I’m annoyed, so I take a large step forward. “What?” I yell.

Dad’s left arm stretches out to stop me from walking farther forward. I’m glad he did, too. I would’ve stepped in a huge puddle. I look down. “Why are we stopping? It’s just a stupid puddle.”

“Look into the ‘stupid’ puddle. Closely.”

My eyes scan the puddle. Nothing.

“There’s nothing he…”

The water ripples.

I stare harder. Then I see the leg push out. Then I see the rest of its slimy and green body. Then I see the small head poking out of the water. Then I see its bulged eyeballs staring me down.

“Croak. Croak.”

“Woah,” I say.

“It’s using camouflage, I think. But I’m not sure. I’m not a zoologist.”

“What’s camouflage?”

“Camouflage is how some organisms blend in to their surroundings, so it makes it harder for their predators to see them. That’s why you couldn’t see the frog without it moving first.”

“Huh…that’s actually kinda cool.”

Dad nudges me on the shoulder. “See, told you this place was full of awesome stuff.”

“Don’t get cocky,” I smile. “This place hasn’t won me over completely…yet. I would still prefer being at home and playing video games.”

“Well, we’re just getting started on this trail. This place still has plenty of time to win you over.”

We step carefully over the puddle and continue walking.

“I’ve got a challenge for you,” Dad says.

“What?”

“See if you can find anything else that is camouflaged on this trail before we leave.”

“And if I do, then you gotta get me a $50 gift card instead of a $20 one.”

“Nick, try seeing this as fun rather than a burden. Life isn’t all about your video games.”

I look around us as we walk. My eyes are scanning the area, begging to see any tiny movement. I am completely focused on the nature around me. I’m like a hungry predator who is looking for a tasty snack.

For the first time ever, as I examine the nature around me, I see plants in a whole new way. The flowers are majestic dancers. Their beautiful petals are dresses. Their leaves are graceful arms, reaching towards the sky. The tall trees are watchful parents; their large branches spread out to cover their seeds from harm. Regardless that there isn’t any visible movement, my surroundings seem to come alive.

I begin to hear small chirps. There must be birds in the maze of tree branches above. I can’t see them, but I can picture the baby birds in their nests, their necks pointed straight up and hoping for their mother to return with a tasty worm.

I even begin to enjoy hearing the buzzing of insects. It only adds to the amazing environment. A small blue and black butterfly flies in front of me. Then it quickly flies off into the trees. I watch it go on for as long as I can until the protective trees block it from view.

“You know…I was kind of like you when I was little. Except I was always into sports,” Dad recalls. “All I ever thought about was baseball. You know, how I could pitch the ball faster or how I could run faster. I never really thought much about nature. I never really could appreciate it. But I later realize…”

“Found one!” I gasp.

“Uh…found what?” Dad is surprised to have been so suddenly interrupted.

“There’s one! Look. There’s a green lizard on this leaf!”

Dad smiles. “Hey, you’re right! Wow! That was quick! Guess I owe you a $50 Steam gift card now.”

I shake my head. “Nah. Don’t worry about it. This is worth way more than that. C’mon, let’s keep going.”

Dad smiles.

Today, if I had to guess what he was thinking at that moment, I would probably guess that he was glad to see I was changing. You know, I would even say he might have been proud of me despite all the rude actions I’d made previously.

“So, I was right, wasn’t I? This place has a bunch of cool secrets,” Dad says.

“You wouldn’t be wrong,” I reply. “Before we started on the trail, all I could think was that this place was going to be extremely boring. Who knew hiking would be so much fun?”

“Wait till I take you to climb a mountain. This trail isn’t anything compared to that. A mountain’s environment is so much different. At some point, we’d be climbing up steep hills and walking on large boulders. Oh, and the top will be gorgeous. We would see everything for miles and miles. Mark my words, that view will be spectacular.”

“Wow! That sounds fantastic! Can we go?”

“Yeah. Maybe we can go during vacation or sometime. The nearest mountain is roughly a four-hour drive from home. Tell you what, we can pack a tent and go camping there. We can fish at a nearby lake, go kayaking, and also go rock climbing! How’s that sound?”

I hug Dad. “You promise to take me?”

“I promise.”

Later that year, we indeed went camping. That was another great experience. The scenery and nature there were beautiful. I hope that we can go again sometime.

As my memory flowed on, a smile again formed on my lips. Now I remembered the best part.

Suddenly I stop. “Dad, do you hear that sound?”

“Guess what that is.”

“I don’t know. I’ve never heard anything roar like that before.”

“That, young man, is the sound of Othaka Falls. Gosh, an 11-year-old not knowing what a waterfall sounds like is unbelievable. Come on. Let’s take a look.”

The trail’s terrain begins to be composed of rocks instead of soil. The sound of the waterfall grows steadily louder.

The trail suddenly turns to the left. I can see why. We had come upon a wide stream. Water rushes down it and makes thundering crashes when it pounds against any large rocks blocking its path.

“We must be close,” Dad says.

My anticipation is through the roof. I sprint off without a warning.

“Slow down!” Dad hollers from behind me. “Don’t want you falling in the stream! The rocks here are more slippery.”

I reluctantly slow down a bit. The sound of rushing water has grown tremendously. Sure enough, Othaka Falls soon comes into view. I take off once more. I come crashing into the railing at the observation platform, and I lean out as far as I can.

“This is astonishing!” I gasp.

A few seconds later, Dad comes by my side. “Wow! That is truly marvelous.”

I tip back my head to find the water’s origin and put out my hand to block the harsh sunrays from impairing my vision. The water rushes to the upper rock formations and cascades over the edge. A white foam surrounds the area where the water crashes down into the stream. Even though the observation deck is a few meters away from the base of the waterfall, I can still feel the cool and refreshing spray.

Dad turns around. “Darn! I wish there was someone here to take a picture of us. Oh, how about we take one of those…uh, what are they called?”

I smile as I look over at him. “You mean a selfie?”

“Yeah, that. Come here.”

Looking back at the photo in my hands, I still remember the excitement I had from visiting Othaka Falls. That day played such a key role in my life. It helped me see nature in a way I had never seen before. Over the next 11 years, my love of nature has only grown. I had even replaced my dream job of becoming a professional video gamer to a national park ranger.

In order to help me pursue my dream, Dad and I had moved closer to my favorite national park: Yosemite.

“Nick! Hurry up!” Dad’s voice came from downstairs. “You’re supposed to be at Yosemite by 6:00! You don’t want to be late on your first day working as a park ranger.”

“Yeah! Yeah! Coming!”

I carefully leaned the photo against my bedside lamp.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out my park ranger badge. After ensuring it was crystal clean for about the hundredth time, I clipped it on and hurried out of my room.

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