What I Learned This Summer: Go Touch Some Grass

This is a blog post that one of your Youth Conservation Corps interns, Mindy (she/her) from Renton, WA, wrote during the program this summer.

A smiling Asian girl with a King County Parks baseball cap & t-shirt on stands in front of flowers, bushes, & a picnic shelter.
Photo by Eli Brownell

What does it mean to “touch grass?”

“Touch Grass, or Touch Some Grass, is a popular online insult and alternative way of telling someone to ‘go outside,’ implying they’re spending too much time online and it’s affecting their wellbeing.”

– knowyourmeme.com

Like many of you who might be reading this, I spent most of my past one-and-a-half years in the safety of my home as the COVID-19 pandemic kept everyone shut indoors under quarantine. I attended online zoom classes for school, took all of my tests and exams in my room, and visited libraries through my computer screen. My parents were both at-risk people, so for several months, the only faces that I saw were those of the other people living in my house. I didn’t even go outside – I was scared of the potentiality that someone might have “breathed” onto the spot where I stood earlier and I might accidentally breathe that back in and get infected. No exaggeration here.

A watercolor illustration of a girl with a ponytail with overwhelmed swirls for eyes. A mask, the letters "AP," & the message "School's Closed" float in the background.
Illustration by Mindy

Because of COVID, I was also unable to participate in volunteer opportunities or interact with others in my community. I felt really disconnected from the world, it was like the only thing that existed was my tiny circle of people and everyone else only lived on through my phone and computer screens.

This is why when I heard about the opportunity of this internship, joining the King County Youth Conservation Corps, I was really excited. Finally, there was a chance to connect with other people in my community who cared about the environment and help make a difference. Here would be my chance to go outside and finally touch some grass.

Being in the YCC

A pen sketch of a variety of different objects & items under the header "What's in my bag?" Doodle shows Mindy's dad's old satchel, a .55mm pen, a journal, a water bottle, a wide-brim sunhat, gardening gloves, & her lunch wrapped in cloth.
Illustration by Mindy

This is probably the best summer that has ever happened to me. As an avid learner, it’s amazing to be able to learn about different careers in the environment and the efforts made towards environmental and social justice. Taking notes in my journal helps me to process information and keep track of the things we learn, ranging from definitions of “procedural justice” to the leaf shapes of different plant species.

It’s also very rewarding on days that we go out into parks and work on “restoration projects”. We help to maintain the natural environment by removing invasive species such as blackberry or bindweed. This makes room for the native species to grow and for new plantings in the fall time.

Getting to know the other interns and being able to share this learning experience with each other is also really fun :).

Things you can do at a park

  1. Take a walk through shaded forest trails or on curved paved pathways that curl through parks.
  2. Draw or sketch the local wildlife or greenery.
  3. Breathe some fresh air.
  4. Enjoy shade or sunshine, whichever you want.
  5. Play sports with friends and family.
  6. Have a picnic

We’re seeing the effects of our actions now

During our internship, we spend our time at different King County parks in the Whitecenter area. When we visited Thurnau Park, we also spent some time studying Hicklin Lake. There are signs posted around the lake and the park which warn of the toxic algae in the lake; it’s unsafe for people or pets to be near.

Although algae are natural, this algae bloom may have been caused by the new development of a field and its use of fertilizers. When it rains heavily, the stormwater washes this fertilizer into Hicklin Lake, saturating the water with nutrients and leading to the overgrowth of algae. The algae there produce dangerous toxins, which is why it must be monitored by King County staff.

I took some photographs of the lake. Although I hadn’t visited many lakes or natural waters recently, I knew that this lake was different. Seeing a murky green lake, bubbling mysteriously and surrounded by “TOXIC” warning signs felt like something straight out of a dystopian novel about a dying polluted planet. Except it’s real and happening now.

Here is a photo I took in late July 2021 of Hicklin Lake. You can see two small ducks drifting through its waters.

Photo of Hicklin Lake by Mindy

My experience at Hicklin Lake opened my eyes to how our natural systems are changing because of our actions. This photo in particular struck a chord within me. I decided to paint this scene to possibly spread awareness of what’s happening in our lakes and waters. If the toxic algae are too dangerous for our pets to be in, what could they be doing to marine animals? According to a survey of the effects of toxic algae on seabirds, toxic algae blooms may lead to a reduced ability to lay eggs, move around, and to eat (“Marine birds”). This is why it’s important to care about where our water goes and how stormwater is directed and treated.

A watercolor illustration showing a dirty, algae green pond with trash in it & a sick-looking duck. Hand-illustrated letters read "Keep Our Water Clean!"
Illustration by Mindy

So, I touched grass this summer

And I was able to have this eye-opening experience that shifted the way I perceived our changing environment. I encourage everyone to spend some time in parks or green spaces this summer and in the future. Not only does it help you to relax and connect with others, but it also helps us to realize the importance of environmental stewardship and justice.


Leave a Reply