Volume 2 Number 29
I have to admit that I have struggled with this newsletter over the past few months. It began as a guide to online activities during Covid isolation, but that ran thin.
I then tried to make it about literature and later about my own writing, but lately, I find myself tired of the enterprise. Like Sir John Hurt in the iconic Dr. Who series, I find myself saying "No More."
So, my newsletter is due for a change to my real passion, the natural world. That's what gets me out of bed in the morning and wakes me in the night to get up and stargaze.
Once each year, I give a four-hour instructional program on the natural world at night. Background on why I do this presentation appears at the end of this installment of RayzReviewz, but here are some neat activities you can use to learn about the outdoors at night.
A Literary Approach
Poems and stories of the world at night are abundant, and some people like to focus on the terrifying ones, but I take a gentler approach.
The poem "To Know the Dark" by Wendell Berry offers the insight that "the dark blooms and sings." You can read the short text here: Poetry Chaikhana | Wendell Berry - To Know the Dark (poetry-chaikhana.com)
The British writer Chris Yates, who spends a lot of time writing about fishing, also spends the shortest night of the year, the Summer Solstice, walking. His book, Nightwalk: A Journey into the Heart of Nature, relates his experience on one extended walk. Nightwalk: A Journey to the Heart of Nature by Chris Yates | Goodreads
An Educational Approach
Brad Daniel and Clifford Knapp prepared an article on leading a night walk, primarily with students in mind. Knapp, now deceased, was one of my mentors at Northern Illinois University. Read their safety tips, whether exploring the nighttime world on your own or as a leader or participant in outdoor activities. Explore an area in the daytime first, and make sure you know it well before going at night.
Nighttime Adventures - Green Schools National Network
Explore the Night Sky
We have several local resources for learning about astronomy, but most of them are closed due to Covid 19. You will have to wait a while to visit the Clarence T. Jones Observatory or Smith Planetarium in Walker County.
I recently visited one that is open, the Star Walk trail at Harrison Bay State Park, developed b the Barnard Astronomical Society. I enjoyed a walk on the course and read the interpretive signs, which impart a solid knowledge of the subject.
You can explore it during the daytime to learn some astronomy. Keep safety foremost in your mind. Harrison Bay State Park's Star Walk - Sky & Telescope - Sky & Telescope (skyandtelescope.org)
You can also download and print a star chart and connect some lines before using it at night. The best way to begin learning the constellations is to connect them with lines.
Star Charts | Adventure Science Center
On the Chart, please find the two stars at the end of the dipper and draw a straight line through them. Use a pencil. Darker lines will confuse you later.
If you continue about three times that distance, you will end up at the North star. The North Star is a guidepost for navigation, and the big dipper inspired the song "Follow the Drinkin' Gourd." It was a guide for escaping slaves on the underground railway.
Follow the Drinking Gourd - YouTube
The North Star is the end of the handle of the Little Dipper.
Draco winds between the dippers.
Thuban, the third star from the end of Draco's tail, was the north star in ancient Egyptian Astronomy. Vega in the Lyre will be the north star in a few thousand years. Thuban - Wikipedia
Continue your line from the big dipper to the north star to Cassiopeia, the "lazy W."
•Perseus, Pegasus, Cepheus, and Andromeda are all nearby. These constellations are all named for characters in a Greek Myth.
Medusa, the Gorgon, had hair made of snakes. Anyone who looked at her would turn to stone. A goddess she offended inflicted this condition as a punishment.
Perseus severed her head and put it in a bag so he would not become stone. The variable star Algol, also known as the demon star, represents the head. Algol - Wikipedia
Perseus saved the princess Andromedia from a sea serpent who was ravaging the coast. He showed the head to the sea monster, and the sea monster turned to stone. Queen Casiopea and her husband Cepheus had sent Andromedia as a sacrifice to the sea monster, so Perseus turned them to stone too.
That is the discussion accompanying the first few slides in my PowerPoint presentation. My storytelling must be at its best when I give the talk.
Your interest may run to nighttime animals. I will share that portion of my talk in the next installment of RayzReviewz. Meanwhile, here is a link to my interview with wildlife rehabilitator Alix Parks as published in Hellbender Press.
Hellbender Press - Wildlife rehabbers return birds to the sky in Chattanooga.
How I ended up doing a presentation on Nature at Night.
My presentation is one of ten experienced by a group of people who have committed to spend four hours each month over ten months learning about nature.
Topics for this program include everything from birds to insects to wildflowers to just about anything else you can imagine. One month they spend four hours learning about things that live in freshwater environments.
Someone affiliated with the program remembered that I once led night hikes at a local nature center and said, "that's the guy." I don't give any of the other presentations and am happy with that arrangement.
Standards for my presentation are high because the participants will eventually present these activities.
For the nocturnal nature portion, I spent hours preparing a PowerPoint and other materials for the two hours of indoor instruction, not to mention the activities for two hours of structured outdoor learning experiences. Dissatisfied with the PowerPoint presentation, I prepared a new one this year.