Write Outside Your Doors

Have you ever stood so still watching birds in the distance calling to one another it was as though you’d turned to stone? Ever walked along a trail only to be interrupted by a curious deer hiding between the dense leaves of nearby trees?

There is power in nature to help us connect with the beauty and wonder of our world, but it’s up to us to take the time to open ourselves up to this experience.  Many believe in the power of nature to heal, inspire, and connect us all. With the cold of winter slowly starting to fade away, many of us are responding to nature’s call to get outside—and this year we’re asking students in grades K–12 to once again share their experiences in nature with us as part of the Write Outside Your Door free writing competition.

Write Outside Your Door is a contest co-sponsored by the Missouri Botanical Garden and Gateway Writing Project that authentically integrates creative writing into science and English language curriculums. Students may submit stories, essays, or poems that creatively address the theme of writing about the outdoors, reflecting in nature, and acting as stewards of the environment.

Winning submissions for the 2018 contest illustrated a student’s love for hiking, an adventurous trip to a butterfly conservatory and Nature’s playful spirit, poems exploring the contrasting views from student’s home and how children see the world, and a letter of deep apology to the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Want to enter the 2019 Write Outside Your Door competition – here’s how:  

  • Students in grades K-12 may enter. Winners will be chosen in the following categories: K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12.
  • Word Limits: Stories and essays should be limited to 1,000 words. Poetry should be kept between 3-30 lines.
  • Entries will be judged on merits of composition (grammar and organization), content (how well the theme has been addressed), and voice (word choice and style).

To enter this year’s contest: Complete the online submission form and upload a digital copy of your favorite piece.

2018 Winning Submissions

K-2 Grade | Jack S.  (2nd Grade)

Oh hiking, peaceful, relaxing, outdoors. Everyone loves hiking. You can hike in many places like the woods or at the park or even in your backyard. Hiking is a way to get outside and spend time with your family. Some families when they go hiking they look for a certain thing like a red leaf or a stick shaped like a Y.

It also gives you a lot of exercise. If you put a Fitbit on you I bet the number of steps you take will be pretty big. When I take a hike I normally I take short hikes almost 2 times a week and I will tell you this, when I ran a mile the first my time was 11 minutes and the next time I did I it was 9 minutes. That shows you how much hiking changes me.

It will also give you a chance to see all of the beautiful things nature has in store for you. Like squirrels or deer and maybe even bears.

I definitely encourage you to get outside and go for a hike. Well, I made my point and it is that hiking is very good for you and like I said before I definitely encourage you to go outside and convince your parents to go on a hike!

Magical Natural
3-5 Grade | Shravanya S. (3rd Grade)

I was out in the woods hiking and exploring. “I just know that I am not going to enjoy this trip!” I said to myself. We were out as a family on this nature walk. It was just nature. What was it going to do? It was not going to be any fun! But we were going as a family and it was decided – it was done. So was in the middle of nowhere and my mom kept saying to keep an open mind. She always sang this song: “Keep an open mind and you will see hundreds of things to do and find!” It went to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” I tried to follow my mom’s advice and started observing my surroundings. I noticed we were going into a big building. Cool! At first, I thought it was the Hershey’s factory so I got happy. But then I knew what it was. It was a…butterfly conservatory.

My little sister was all excited to head into the conservatory. I wasn’t. However, this was a great chance to escape from this nature walk. I sneaked away and just as people were about look my way, I jumped as high and far as I could and landed in a bed of flower bushes. Suddenly I got curious. How do these plants help the world? Is there any use for them? I didn’t know why scientists like those “botanists” liked plants. As I turned back, I heard a buzzing sound. There I saw a bee grabbing nectar and honey out of the bud. The little guy went to a beehive next to me and fed the sweet food to the cute baby bees and the Mama bee. That made me realize that flowers may be helpful to bees, but there are still so many other things that are in nature. “What is all the other stuff for?” I murmured to myself.

As I was walking around, I passed some fields full of wheat. I then remembered what my mom said earlier. “Don’t waste your food. When we go on the nature walk on Saturday you will see how hard farmers work to get all that grain. Nature’s bugs then eat the bugs that try to eat the delicious wheat. Nature helps us humans survive.” The fields of wheat looked beautiful. I understood that wheat is helpful for us and because of bugs. They clean out the plants and make it easier for us to eat and make it easier for the farmer to sell the wheat. The more I walked, the more I got interested. It was like I was doing my own nature walk, discovering things I never have seen and understood before. Suddenly I noticed something. There was a faint voice coming from somewhere, or maybe everywhere. It kept repeating, “Needs are important. But where do you get them?” Well I didn’t understand the meaning of this until later. I didn’t get one word. So I moved on but the whole way I was thinking about that voice. What was it talking about? I was so concerned about what I heard that I didn’t notice a hole in front of me covered in grass. I stepped forward and accidentally fell right into it. It was a deep, deep hole!

“Ahh! This trip had been so hard on me.. First, I was bored. Then, my head started hurting because of the plant learning I had done. Afterwards, the unknown voice came, and now a deep hole? I could not handle this situation at all.” I thought to myself. But then I noticed a path in the darkness of the hole with fresh, sparkling, pure, clear drinking water. I guess I was thirsty because when I saw it, I ran and drank almost every drop. I started walking again when that voice returned. “Needs are important. But where do you get them?” I wondered what it wanted. Why was it following me? I had no answer. I lost my patience. I stomped my way across the way I came. But something was odd. The hole that I came through in was closed. Completely closed!

I screamed. But then I stopped. I knew what was going on. I froze. All along, nature has been playing with me. First, when I jumped, I landed right near a beehive to learn and explore how flowers help others. Then, I went past a field of wheat and it reminded me of how much farmers work to make that grain as well as how bugs help us humans. Later, a voice came trailing and…. Wait a minute! I understand now! That voice was Nature! It was reminding me in my own inner voice that nature isn’t just all about the prettiness. We should admire it on how unique it is and how it helps us humans in many ways. But that’s not all that was related to nature on my individual journey. When I fell in the hole I found water which is also part of nature!

Suddenly, like magic, the hole opened. I climbed out and caught up with my family just in time before they got in the car to go home. While I was getting in the car, I realized that my dad, mom, and my sister were all talking at the same time of what their favorite thing was in the conservatory. When it came to me, I said I didn’t know, but the truth was I did – I most definitely did!

The Two Sides to My House
6-8 Grade | Devan E.

If you go outside my back door
You will see endless miles of green
If you go outside my back door
You will see what is never seen

There are flowers a bloom,
Trees a growing,
Rocks a rolling,
And water a flowing

You hear the birds chirping,
The rustling of the leaves
What rustles the leaves?
Why, the soft, cool breeze

If you go outside my back door
You will see
The world that existed before

But, if you go outside my front door
You will see many different things
You won’t see much green
Or even hear a bird that sings

Instead you see a pitch black road
Running through my neighborhood
With machines that drive
Each owning a hood

You see many different houses
Each bigger than their yards
You see many distinct driveways
Each with different cars

Now that you know many new things
I leave you with the pictures
Of the two sides to my hous

A Letter of Deep Apology to the Botanical Gardens of Saint Louis
9-12 | Anna F. (12th Grade)

Dear Staff,

I am deeply sorry for running barefoot through the Japanese Garden. Witnesses may have described me as a young, (barefoot) teen wearing a transparent orange silk shirt that billowed out like a foxtail in the breeze. I left my sandals in the George Washington Carver garden, hidden in the gushing black fountain that always seems to be empty.

Then, I absolutely did run, not walk, to smell the lavender in the Persian garden, and it was a blinding sort of smell, like the taste of lemon or the scent of the cool mist rising from the fountains. I did not look a day under fifty then, but I wore ripped jeans and was sketching the water lilies.

I acknowledge that I did tickle the Venus flytraps with blades of grass to make them close their eyelid mouths, and I managed to cheat at the Victorian hedge mage. Some people think it is impossible to cheat at mazes, but I assure you, anything is possible when you shriek with laughter the entire time, ripping holes in the striped shirt my parents made me wear.

It was I, I was the one who left smudged fingerprints all over the greenhouse glass and made dents in the sleeping green grass next to Henry Shaw’s mausoleum. I fished two copper pennies from the liquid manes of the water spouting fountain, and then tossed them back in for a recycled wish. Maybe then, I was pregnant at the time, and blushing over the honey-fire scent of the hyacinths.

Finally, I must confess to spreading malicious rumors to both children and adults that there was a giant squid in the reflecting pools in front of the Climatron. Right after I spread my fingertips across the hides of the trees in the German forest, spying a bird wing out of the corner of my eye. You have to forgive me, I was a father for the first time that day, and I held my newborn daughter amidst the azaleas… I digress.

I am sorry for glimpsing the foxes and the turtles in their hidden places from a carved bench, or for touching the petals of each flower with a finger-pad to feel how soft they were. I was so old by that time, with wrinkles to match the lake ripples, so familiar with these Gardens, knowing each daylily’s ridiculous name…

I apologize for ogling over the bronze sculptures too long and measuring the sundial’s copper arcs, and sneaking a Fragaria ananassa (strawberries) from the Kemper Center Gardens. I just was off work for an hour, and had somehow found myself here to de-stress for a bit…but I guess I got a little carried away.

I admit that I did pet the concrete sheep, every awkward one of them, and pretended to feed the smallest lamb a handful of uprooted grass. You might have heard me scream with sheer joy after that, totally soaked through by running through the fountain sprinklers. I was four at the time, too small to keep quiet at that age.

Sorry, I got off topic again; this is a letter of apology, is it not?

In summary, I apologize for loving this bit of garden that hides within these walls of a city, for finally understanding what a garden is, a palace to walk, touch, smell, plant, and encounter the things that are half-wild in ourselves.

Dear Staff of the Botanical Gardens, I am sorry for seeing beauty in the growing things, in the gardens and art of being alive. I am sorry that each time I walk in, be it barren winter or red-cloaked fall, or the high green of summer, I feel as if spring is the only season that lives here.

I am sorry about stopping to smell the flowers, and blocking the path.

The Public of Saint Louis

A Child’s World
Judges Choice | Hannah K. (10th Grade)A Child’s World

Love the Earth as a child does
Look not at the wildflowers as weeds
But instead as a gorgeous wedding bouquet.
Look not at fireflies as annoying pests,
But instead a creatures who just want to play.
Look not at a hole in the ground as another chore,
But instead as a lake to sail across.
Look not at the Earth as a lost cause,
But instead as the hope that holds the beauty of the future.

Want to enter the 2019 Write Outside Your Door competition – here’s how:  

  • Students in grades K-12 may enter. Winners will be chosen in the following categories: K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12.
  • Word Limits: Stories and essays should be limited to 1,000 words. Poetry should be kept between 3-30 lines.
  • Entries will be judged on merits of composition (grammar and organization), content (how well the theme has been addressed), and voice (word choice and style).

To enter this year’s contest: Complete the online submission form and upload a digital copy of your favorite piece.

Kat Golden
EarthWays Center Sustainability Education Manager

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