Tuesday, 28 April 2009
What I Really Know About Summer Nights
By Lyn Burnstine of The Lynamber Times
When I was a small girl, seven decades ago, I learned that the star-filled sky drew me to connect with the universe–removing me from my own little inner world. When I needed that connection, even more so during my angst-ridden teenage years, I would go outside, sit down on the steps of our country farmhouse, look up at the wide, midwestern, prairie sky and be comforted by its vastness.
That simple act confirmed for me that I and my woes were small and fleeting, and that the firmament would continue on in all its majesty.
To this day I take great delight in the aural and visual treats of nature’s nighttime symphony and light show: the enchanting song of the spring peepers, the late summer warble of the cicadae and locusts and the sight of fireflies hovering at twilight over the tops of the grasses. I love knowing they will be here for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren and beyond – bestowing the same blessings on them.
I often stop my car, pull over to the roadside and turn off the headlights to look at the full moon and the stars musing on how those heavenly bodies will witness what I will not be here to see – many generations more of my blood and lineage.
I hope my progeny will always appreciate the magnificence of the outdoors and take joy in its unending beauty. I’ve tried to pass along the legacy of my love of nature to the three more generations who have already arrived on this glorious earth in my lifetime – through my writing and photography, as well as with personal expressions of awe and wonder.
But will today’s children ever really see the stars? Will they ever hear the birds? the frogs? the peepers? I see young people walking or riding bikes with phones and earbuds plastered to their ears. I see young mothers wheeling strollers with phones plastered to their ears. When is there ever a time to quietly listen to that bird’s song? Time to expand that little one’s awareness of the natural world with a well-timed “Listen to the ‘sweet, sweet’ song of the cardinal. See that pretty red bird?”
Some of my dearest childhood memories are of my father teaching me “back-yard astronomy” – lying on the picnic table under the summer nighttime sky and pointing out the stars and constellations.
While we were walking in the woods or riding in the car, my mother would call attention to the birds and flowers, giving them names. Both parents took us into the woods to picnic, gather wild flowers and honey, to swing on grapevines, to play in an abandoned pig sty and to wade in the “crick.” All these decades later, my sister and I can happily spend an hour slowly ambling alongside woods and roadways, identifying the weeds and wallflowers. Between the two of us, we know most of them, and delight in a new discovery.
My own children loved the Sunday afternoon family drives through the countryside on uncharted back roads. “Can we get lost again, Daddy?” was a frequent refrain. I led my son’s Ranger Rick club of neighborhood boys to local parks to identify native and imported trees. We fed and watched wildlife from our home in the woods – skunks, raccoons, possums, rabbits and deer – even rescuing and raising a baby raccoon. We never fed birds, not wanting to put them in harm’s way of our ubiquitous cat, but we loved to watch them.
All three of my children appreciate nature: my daughters and granddaughter garden; my son is a spelunker, hiker, mountain biker, birdwatcher and my resource for identifying unknown birds. I am saddened to think this might be the end of that long legacy, doomed by the bombardment of sound and noise and movement of the electronic age.
Has all that excitement and glitz spoiled the simple pleasures of nature forever, or will future generations rediscover the eternal magic of the night sky? I’d like to believe that there is in us such a basic need for connecting with the universe (and not by cell phone) that we will someday again put down the phones and look up and listen.
In my 75-year-long journey, there have been many times that I needed the solace of the sky – it has never failed me.
[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]