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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.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Lyn - This is right on! Nature's sounds, smells, and sights during childhood, as you so beautifully write, remain with us forever.

I can't think of any lasting benefits of pounding drums and electric guitars on kids' eardrums, or the chasing around and killing of things on little screens the size of a two of diamonds. Except, perhaps the enhanced bottom lines of eye care and hearing compaies.

Hmmmm, maybe I should buy shares of Bausch and Laumb, and have my stock broker seek out a couple of hearing device companies! - Sandy

Beautifully written. If all young people were able to read this I am sure they would be inspired to take out those ear buds and listen for the bird song.

Lyn, I loved your story filled with the beauty of nature, and its opposite, the language of modern times. Maybe as we emerged from our caves, rubbing two sticks together, there was no high tech to distract us, and we were abundantly aware of the natural world.

If it weren't for natural science study in school, kids wouldn't even know there was a sky. In my (now-developed) neighborhood, only the first warm spring days or the first few days of summer vacation bring children outdoors to play. The rest of the time is devoted to some "planned" activity or they are in their rooms with their newest technology.

It is very sad, but I believe, with you, that there is a basic need to connect with the universe. Bring on the backlash!

Enjoyed your story. Do kids even climb trees anymore? I identified with your 'getting lost' drives. I tell my grandchildren getting lost is fun, and you never know what you will find.

Thanks for all your responses. I had this on Lynamber.PNN.com and am happy to report that I did get a few reports from moms that their kids had initiated nature activities of some sort, so I guess all is not lost. My daughter just told me that she & her granddaughter (my great) had watched and observed the rapid growth of the leaves on their street this week in the 90 degree heat.

Lyn, first of all, I do love to read your writing. I've certainly seen evidence of which you speak and it hurts my heart. During a recent trip to the South of France with a teenaged grandson we road the bus from Nice to Eze along one of more scenic routes in this world. He persisted in playing with an electronic device the entire time. Never glanced out. But on a more encouraging note, I brought his brother with me to an event on the grassy plains in Oklahoma. As we drove out towards the high grasses populated only by buffalo I heard from the back seat: O H M Y G O D ! And he explained to the others in the car that living in foothills of the Catskill Mountains he'd never seen so much sky before in his life. He was really blown away. (And if any of you say, "well of course there is no signal out there", I'll never speak to you again).

Just to comment, not only on Lyn's, but all of the others that I enjoy so much. I so identify with all of your comments.When I was a child I enjoyed the outdoors so mukch and have tried to pass on that love to my children and grandchildren. N.shore

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