Night Sky Ambassadors

Lying on a dam, stargazing and sleeping out with the group I’m leading, in the middle of a camp in rural Kentucky. . There is a 0% chance of storms, and the sky is perfectly clear. As we look up at the night sky, a smog overcomes it. That smog is lights from an urban area a 20 minute drive away from us.

Coming over the trees, the lights of Owensboro, Kentucky, impede our stargazing. A yellow haze, exactly like the smog I used to see floating over Denver, Colorado, on really hot days when I lived there. The big dipper is halfway gone, swallowed up by the light pollution.

This probably isn’t a shock. We all know city lights impact your stargazing. It has been called light pollution for years, and when I traveled through Peru two years ago with Global Explorers, we all talked about being night sky ambassadors. But none of that really impacted me until I could see the lights impacting my beautiful stargazing night.

As the world becomes more populated and urban, so much is disappearing. Forests are gone, lakes and rivers are becoming polluted, the air is filling with smog, and fields are becoming parking lots. The night sky to some is an untouched wonder, but society is beginning to destroy that as well. We all need to be night sky ambassadors, by turning off our lights, and resisting growing levels of urbanization.

Exciting Plants?

Being injured, I have become trapped in my house. After about five hours of the TV life, and finishing a book, I came to the conclusion that I was stir crazy and needed to do something. I thought about my looming camp season, and my personal lack of knowledge about native plants and animals in Kentucky that were not poisonous. So, I decided it was time to make myself a booklet about the unique plants and animals, things that would interest my girls.

From the University of Kentucky Horticulture Department

Ecological regions of Kentucky, from the University of Kentucky Horticulture Department

I’m an environmental studies major at my school, and want to go into outdoor education. So, I do recognize that while this type of thing is appealing to me, most 13 year old girls find plants, trees, and animals that cannot kill them boring. I figured I was in luck though when I stumbled on the fact that the origin of the name for the Pennyroyal region in Kentucky, which one of our camps is named after, came from a herb we could find on camp property! I knew that connecting the plants to their knowledge would excite the girls. I also discovered more information about the armadillos of Kentucky. I mean, that’s such a random creature, who wouldn’t be excited about that!

Goldenrod, the state plant of Kentucky

Goldenrod, the state plant of Kentucky

However, that was kind of it. There were no lesson plans on teaching kids about plants and animals. No fun activities, outside of a scavenger hunt at the University of Kentucky. Nothing, besides an extensive list of trees, and lots of information about the Cottonmouth (a very poisonous snake found in Kentucky). I found a couple very helpful websites about ecology in Kentucky designed for teachers, but that said there was really no set plans for teaching this topic. I grew up in Kentucky, and am oblivious to what is around me. And, it seems the rest of the state is as well.

Pennyroyal

Pennyroyal

Outdoor education really needs to be implemented into schools. This is absurd that no one has developed this field further. And, while it has given a mission for my house-trapped self, it disappoints me. We should be embracing our natural environment, and even though I’m trying, I can barely scratch the surface.

Back Country Community

You walk into the kitchen of a hostel in the mountains in North Carolina at 8 am, to see a youth group in one room and a man drinking a beer in the other. The difference is astonishing, yet neither group is upset by the other. When you spend a week living with thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail, you learn to expect the un-expected. This situation would have upset so many people in the ‘front country.’ Yet, in the back country, there is a mutual respect between everyone, and a sense of community that you cannot find anywhere else. And that is what is amazing.

I was not hiking the AT when I experienced this, even though I was staying in a hostel on the trail. I was getting Advanced Wilderness First Aid certified, and also enjoying the mountain life. I went there knowing nobody, and within 15 minutes had some new friends. From bonfires on the river to chilling with thru-hikers in the kitchen, everybody was fully immersed in the mountain life. I learned so much from people I spent 30 minutes of my life with, something unheard of in real life.

The community became even more apparent after the third day. Basically, I had to go to the bathroom really badly, and had my computer in my hands. I started running, fell, and partially tore a ligament in my foot. I made it to the bathroom and my computer survived, but the irony of injuring myself while I was getting my AWFA was not lost on me. My friends I had made in my course helped me immediately, and everyone else was very supportive.

One lady, a member of the youth group, shocked me though. She offered to help the next day as she saw me hobbling around, and I told her not to worry. She then startled me by asking “Are you a religious person?” She did not specify a religion, but having lived in Kentucky half my life, I assumed she was Christian. I do not consider myself a member of any religion, nor do I have a belief in any. Terrified she would be upset, but not wanting to be rude, I said: “No, but if you are that does not bother me.” So she said, “May I pray for you?” And I urgently reassured her that if she wanted to she could. Only later did I realize that I never knew her religion, and that she in no way pressured me to believe anything. She just wanted to see how she could help me, and if I was refusing physically, I might enjoy some spiritual help.

I am still not spiritual after this experience, but am thankful to that lady for being so respectful of my beliefs (or lack thereof). She really solidified the community that I felt in the mountains, and that we can all overcome differences in beliefs in a respectable manner.

I wish the world could be like the mountains. And that’s why I want to work with kids in the outdoors, so they can not just experience nature, but experience the community that is part of nature.