By Wesley Jung June 25, 2018

This story is about the night I spent hopelessly lost while backpacking in Arizona’s Coconino County–and the reason I will always fight for the environment. It was a cool fall day—sometime in mid-October if I remember correctly—and I had taken a wrong turn. A couple miles away from camp, I meandered off-trail straight down into a heavily wooded slot canyon; to my sides were rocky cliff faces, and behind me was a series of jagged terraces that I had unwittingly traversed and could no longer pass.

I had only had one direction to go: down. So I walked until it got dark and unsafe to move, and rolled out my sleeping bag when I got to patch of grass that was less rocky than everywhere else. I was preparing for a sleepless night in the middle of nowhere when something suddenly struck me about my surroundings. I was laying down in the middle of a grassy field, with pine trees softly rustling around me. I heard the call of owls and distant animals as a breeze rolled across my face. The stars twinkled far above and a bright, full moon illuminated the whole valley. I was enjoying nature, about as purely as I could. Everything was exactly where it should have been that night—utterly flawless.

I’ve been chasing moments like that ever since that fateful night, but I can’t help but feel that they’re being thrown away by many of our current elected leaders due to self-interest and corporate greed. There must be a balance, a way to preserve the pure, calming beauty of nature, with the expanding needs of our society.

By fighting with Defend Our Future as a Summer Intern, my voice is heard by elected leaders across the state. I have the opportunity to work with like-minded peers and impact policy and public opinion that I don’t get anywhere else. I can’t wait to see what we’ll accomplish in the future, and what students who come after us will do to ensure experiences like the one I had are possible for generations to come.

Wesley Jung is a rising sophomore at Vanderbilt University.