In the Pipeline: Essay winner captures peace of local nature

Last Sunday will long stand out for me as a special one in this city.

It began at the wonderful Taste of Huntington Beach celebration, which supports the Children's Library. The organizers of the event were kind enough to have the winner of my annual essay competition attend the event, but they also allowed her to cut the opening ribbon. Congratulation to Samar Saad, a junior at Fountain Valley High School.

I received dozens of exceptional of entries this year and, though the decision was tough, this judge landed on Samar 's poignant description of a place where, as you'll read in a moment, she finds peace and solitude in a local, natural setting.

With her parents along for the day at the Taste, Samar joined what has become one of Huntington Beach's signature events. Congratulations Samar, and to everyone else who entered. It's refreshing to know how many good young writers we have among us.

After the Taste, many of us headed over to the Central Library to watch the extraordinary keyboard talents of Vern Nelson, who performed a special piano concert in support of opposing the proposed Air Quality Management District beach bonfire ban. After that, we headed to an actual bonfire rally held by Assemblyman Travis Allen. Packed with supporters and media, this was a fantastic cap to a full, rewarding day.

But for all the beach bonfire buzz in the air throughout the morning into evening, for all the marvelous food and fanfare, the true highlight for me was watching Samar's parents watch her cut that big red ribbon at the Taste of Huntington Beach. Beaming and bursting with pride, this was a moment to savor. Congratulations once more, Samar, and again to all the fine students that took part in this competition.

Here is the winning essay penned by Samar:

"Tucked away on a trail off of Bolsa Chica Road, amidst the hustle-and-bustle of Huntington Beach, lays my sanctuary. My ticket to freedom. My escape. Originally introduced to the Huntington Beach Tree Society from a volunteer event with the school club National Honor Society, visiting the area has quickly become one of my favorite pastimes. The area offers not only the chance to melt away my worries, but also the opportunity to get involved and make a positive impact in my community.

Upon entering the Huntington Beach Tree Society, I immediately sink into the surrounding environment. My vision becomes a bit sharper, the sky a bit bluer, the air a bit clearer. I can almost feel roots growing from my feet into the soil as my body, mind, and spirit find its connection with the earth. Suddenly, I can't think about the hundreds of math problems or millions of history outlines I need to write for school. With my favorite book and a bottle of fresh homemade orange juice in hand, I curl up on the bench facing the mountains to the northeast. Surrounded by a cocoon of comfort, I absorb the colors surrounding me — the vivid yellows from the California Poppies, the shades of soft brown on the earth below me, the array of fiery orange on the wings of the butterflies dancing around me. I have reached my state of equilibrium.

The best part is being able to contribute to the serene nature of this urban forest. Created in 1998 as a nonprofit organization with the goal of educating the public about the benefits of an urban forest, the Huntington Beach Tree Society has planted over five thousand trees. Most Saturday mornings, members of the community can help by weeding, watering, and planting. With a neon yellow vest, snug orange gardening gloves, gardening tools and wheelbarrows, seeds and plants, and bottled water provided by the organization, all people need to bring is their enthusiasm and will to work. The best part is seeing sweat bead on my forehead, calluses develop on my hands, and my sneakers turn a brown hue. All of these factors serve as reminders that I am part of a greater community and that my small efforts have made a difference.

Working at the Huntington Beach Tree Society gives me an opportunity to not just be a part of the community, but to feel like part of the community. The organization grows more than just plants and trees — it has fostered my growth as an individual by providing me with the necessary resources to find my state of calm. The sounds of the urban population — blaring car honks and screeching tires — fade away into the hum of rustling leaves and chirping birds. Every time I enter the Huntington Beach Tree Society, a balance flushes over me as the stillness emerges from within, leaving me with nothing but the feeling of Zen."

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at http://www.facebook.com/hbindependent.

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