Immediately after graduating from college, my mother packed up everything she owned and made a journey 3,000 miles across the country, packing up everything she owned, leaving her family and the East Coast. While I grew up on the West Coast my mother’s family remains in Maine and New Hampshire. Every year we take the Portland to Portland flight—Oregon to Maine—to see the family that my mom left so long ago.

These visits give me the opportunity to learn as much as I can about the foreign ecosystem but also to grow closer to these somewhat foreign people that I have come to love.

My four uncles are passionate about sailing so we always take a day long sailing trip when I visit. Every year we make a stop at the same island: Sand Island, named after all of the miniscule shells littering the water’s edge, mimicking a shimmering sandy beach. These sailing trips allowed me to develop my passion, Biology. Rocks of every color, shells from every species were constantly bashed and smoothed against the shore line. I spent hours looking for the perfect shell, constantly being fascinated by all the diverse and abundant life I could find along the shore. Just in this tiny 300 square foot island I found hermit crabs, snakes, spiders, bugs, and fauna of endless varieties that it would take me hours just to begin labeling them. The idea that so much life of all varying types could work together in such perfect harmony has fascinated me ever since i was a child. It was one of the major experiences that sparked my passion for habitats and natural sciences.

While island hopping around Casco Bay, Maine we would stumble across other amazing islands, all of which I would venture into with my cousins and brother and find all sorts of wondrous artifacts. One amazing structure we found was an old abandoned watchtower. I can still remember the sense of pure awe experienced when gazing upon the beauty of this tall tower overrun with nature and the sheer ability of nature to reclaim this object that is so foreign. I instantly felt like I was exploring a deserted island, like I was Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom. Looming in front of me was this beautiful ivy covered structure but there was also a terrifying aspect to it. I mustered up as much bravery as possible and forced myself to leave the comfort of the forest floor and ventured up the tower steps.

When we weren’t searching islands on our sailboat, the entire family spent nights together eating dinner, laughing, telling stories, and enjoying each other’s company. Whether it was eating fresh lobster or swimming, we would spend as much time together as we could. One of the family members I have grown closest with is my cousin Reilly. She has become the closest thing I have to a sister and even though I only see her two weeks out of a year we have not grown apart in the slightest. It still surprises me that I could become so grounded and comfortable with someone I would have considered a complete stranger at one point. The fact that I can now say that I’ve become so emotionally connected with a group of people in which our only commonality is our last name, gives me confidence that I can build a community of people that I will find myself grounded with in the future.

The saddest part of our trips back east is always when we eventually have to return home. We all say our saddened goodbyes but I always make sure to remember the times we shared and all that I have learned about myself. There will be more nature and adventure, more discovery and bravery, more laughter and love.