The value of staring into stars/fire/backlit leaves

By Caitlin Kelly

Comparison showing the effects of light pollut...
Comparison showing the effects of light pollution on viewing the sky at night. The southern sky, featuring Sagittarius and Scorpius. Top – Leamington, UT, pop. 217 Bottom – Orem, UT, in a metropolitan area of ~400,000 I’ve attempted to match sky brightness to how it appeared to my eyes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love you guys. Really.

But two entire days far away from email and computer is a blessed and necessary break for my hands, eyes and brain.

To spend it, as we did last weekend at a friend’s cabin in the Catskills, right beside a rushing stream lulling us to sleep — bliss!

I was very lucky to grow up with parents who loved the outdoors and took long country walks. I also spent every summer, ages 8 to 17, at a summer camp in northern Ontario, surrounded by silence and birch trees, whispering pines and weathered granite.

We canoed across deep lakes, and the sunlight refracted in the tiny whirlpool of our every paddle stroke created a star sapphire in those ancient waters.

A stand of birch trees.
A stand of birch trees. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Loons called.

For a while, my father had a 200+ year old house in the Irish countryside, complete with a wide, cold stream thick with watercress we could pick and make into salad. We stood in Galway Bay, plucking fresh mussels, and went home and made soup.

I love re-connecting with nature and after too much time indoors by artificial light touching plastic, I miss it terribly.

After a week of so much computer time my eyes were sore and watery, I really needed to look at leaves and stars and stone.

So the weekend was perfect.

Lying, snoozing, in a wide hammock strung between two towering trees, dappled by filtered sunlight, all I could see was some bright blue sky with a fresh contrail.

Walking through the woods, I marveled at moss so thick and springy I wanted to make a bed of it and settle down for a nap. Mushrooms, of every possible variety, lay everywhere — many of them with their edges delicately nibbled by something small and hungry.

At night we light a bonfire and sat beside it, feeling small and primeval — not just weary New Yorkers, (three journalists and a spokesman for one of the area’s most-used services), usually attached to cellphones rushing to deal with the latest emergency. We stared up into the night sky and marveled at a rare sight in this light-polluted part of the world: the Milky Way.

As the fire burned out, we pushed the charred logs closer and closer, the embers winking and glowing through the darkness.

In the Catskills
In the Catskills (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you make time to be at home in the natural world?

When and where?

20 thoughts on “The value of staring into stars/fire/backlit leaves

  1. Sounds like an idyllic weekend, Caitlin, and yes, there is something about getting out there that actually is necessary for our well-being. I do not miss the computer or phone when we take off for a few days – leaving for Utah soon and leaving the plastic behind. You would think I would get enough of nature living on five acres in a town where I get to see those stars every night but when I am home, I work. Still, I have six to eight hummingbirds at the feeder every morning, horses and squirrels to watch and most magical of all, a herd of elk chose to eat acorns behind our house the other night, for most of the night! They sound like a squeaky cupboard door being swung back and forth. I could just make out their huge bodies in the dark.

    1. They sound like a squeaky cupboard door being swung back and forth. I could just make out their huge bodies in the dark.

      Poetry! Love this.

      I am at my happiest when surrounded by animals; Jose and I stayed at a friend’s ranch and being able to look out the bedroom window at horses, let alone visit them, was so great.

  2. I think that it is important to take a break from technology sometimes. Having said that, I should do it more often! I spend a lot of time in front of a computer and it feels good to get outside and breathe the fresh air. I live in the countryside within close reach of a city; I feel lucky because I get the best of both worlds. 🙂

  3. i’m really happy you did this, i think that it’s good for most everyone’s heart and mind. i try to take walks every day, especially in the large arboretum here, and it has an amazing positive and regenerative effect on me.

  4. I always know when it’s been too long since I’ve been out in the woods, because I start to get fidgety and kind of grumpy. I’m blessed to be a journalist in a town that’s a few miles outside of a 1 million-plus-acre national forest, so there’s not too much travel time involved. I just spent today on the trail, hiking to a beautiful alpine lake with granite mountaintops not too far in the background, patches of ice still present on them. That time is so restorative and allows me to function much better the rest of the week.

    1. Lucky you!

      I now get homesick for our view of the Hudson and circling red-tailed hawks when we are away. I fear for this generation of kids and young adults who spend their lives tethered to tech…and never really reveling in the natural beauty that’s all around us.

      1. The Rockies are wonderful, but I do get homesick for those Appalachian views…those are the mountains I grew up with. Savor those upcoming autumn colors! But yes, I totally agree. I can still remember all too clearly the day I asked a kid at an after-school program I used to work with what he liked to do outside. His response? “I don’t like to play outside. It’s boring.” The outdoorswoman in me died a little.

  5. Even the word loons brings me back to childhood weeks when dad was Field Director for the Boy Scout camp. North woods of WI, Little House in the Big Woods country.

    I live in the Chicago ‘burbs and do get sick of all the concrete and strip malls. It has been too long since I got out and away and found wild green growing things…

      1. Yes, true.  I get caught up in day to day, then plan a trip and feel myself breathing better and smiling more broadly as the green takes over…

        In the meantime, I have to make a better effort to check out the green spaces that we do have all around the Chicago area, some lean more toward garden and others more wild.


      2. That connection to nature – you are so right, we all need it.  I am pleased that Chicago has rooftop gardening and other efforts particularly for underprivileged people to garden.  We need that relationship to nature.


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