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The Nightingale's Song
Natasha, Age 14, San Diego, CA

A yellow school bus, dingy and dented, rolls by. An assortment of children lounge inside, some glued to the window, eyes vacant, some asleep on the seat in front of them. A camp song drifts out the window, “ forty-three bottles of beer on the wall, forty-three bottles of beer…” Then a shrill screeching is heard, as if a child has suddenly decided to be an opera star, and is not succeeding. Like a pompous thrush purposefully trying to burst its lungs. It sounded worse than all police and fire sirens I’d heard put together... Its high nasal tone didn’t help in the least, and worst of all the singer obviously thought she had a natural talent, as she screeched on and on.

That summer as we stayed in The Arts & Nature Camp, I got to know who the screaming thrush was. Tara Herschel was a girl with an outrageous personality. Every morning she clambered out of bed and sang, “It’s a small world” at the top of her voice. A few minutes into her serenade and the entire camp would be up, grumbling and groggily bashing into each other, as the song waves spread closer. In the afternoons, she would paint a masterpiece, spattering several of us with paint in the process. The camp counselors would then examine her scribbles and swirls for its true significance. Other paintings of houses and animals were too obvious in meaning, and the counselors took a special delight in deciphering Tara’s paintings. At night after a hearty meal, her lullabies haunted us. Just as we drifted into our restless dreams, her snoring would hit us with a resounding bang. It was only hours later that the racket would cease drumming in our ears. Camping with Tara is one experience I will never forget.

In and out of our activities in camp I began to see something exceptional in Tara. Her haphazard methods had a motivation unlike any other, willing her to do her very best. Though she was odd and sometimes outright crazy, her style held a unique taste, flamboyant and colorful. Many thought her “wacko” and stayed away from her, and for a time, so did I. I watched her from a distance, like a hawk guarding its prey. As soon as I began seeing the humorous and intricate side of Tara, I immediately made an effort to become her friend. Though our friendship was short-lived, we spent time having fun participating in various activities at camp. But the week flew by and it was soon time for our departure.

On the bus back home I sat pondering the choice I had made. Memories of her loud snoring and famous “operas” were still vivid. I knew I might never see her again, but I knew what I was taking back with me, was something very valuable. Her belief in doing what her instincts told her to, and not being influenced by the opinions of others was a revolutionary idea to me, and it was one that I admired. The short time I had spent with her had helped me realize the importance of standing up for what I believed in. Tara Herschel might have been a pompous thrush to some, but to me, her music was as sweet as the nightingale’s.

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