By Ethan Maurice | January 27th, 2016
A couple years ago, my brother and I drove down from Phoenix towards the Mexican border for an overnight backpacking trip. I'd read online somewhere that Mount Wrightson's summit was the best place to stargaze in the contiguous United States. The peak towers nearly 7,000ft above the surrounding desert floor and exists far enough away from any light source to provide an almost completely unobstructed view of the night sky.
We'd planned it out perfectly. The forecast called for a moonless, cloudless night. After toiling for five hours skyward in the heat of a summer desert afternoon, we reached the top.
More than a mile above the surrounding landscape, hundreds of swallows whizzed around us with unbelievable speed, dive bombing their last meal of airborne bugs before nightfall. We cooked a large can of sloppy joes on my backpacking stove as the landscape faded from hues of light orange into dark purples.
As we unrolled our sleeping pads and bags the first stars appeared. Lying on my back and looking directly up gave the sense of being completely surrounded by stars as the horizon fell below us. When the last bit of sunlight faded, I laid eyes on the Milky Way for the first time in my life.
The sight was unlike anything I'd ever seen.
We just laid there and stared for some time, marveling at the expanse of our universe. Eventually, I drifted off into a light sleep. A couple hours later, Reid woke me up. To our astonishment, the Milky Way, which was previously in the eastern sky was now directly overhead.
Now that I realize this it sounds blatantly obvious, on the verge of stupid, but I'd never realized the stars were constantly rotating overhead. I know, this makes complete sense. Obviously we're on a spinning planet and the sun is just a close star that crosses our sky the same way, but have you ever actually witnessed this nightly occurrence? Away from all sources of man-made light the movement of the stars was undeniably evident.
This realization rocked my world.
I'd been on Earth for 20 years, yet I'd never noticed the stars moving across the night sky? I'd been around for thousands of nights, yet not once had I bared witness to this nightly phenomenon, which made me wonder... What else have I been missing?
As a society, we've molded our environment into a landscape humans could only once imagine. We've built houses, roads, and skyscrapers. We drive in gasoline powered vehicles, create our own light, and stare at screens all day. We have almost completely separated ourselves from the natural environment that once flourished in the very space you inhabit at this moment.
There are many benefits of this man created landscape. I can say with a solid degree of certainty that, for us, the benefits outweigh the costs of being completely exposed to our once natural environment. However, it's naive and absolutely wrong to believe that there are no consequences to removing ourselves from our natural habitat.
We're generations deep into this separation of man and nature. The trade offs people made with further isolation from nature in the past are only known by those who made those trade offs. We don't know what they surrendered.
To put it simply:
We are completely ignorant of what was lost by trading our natural world for a man made one.
Leaving our comfort, our light, our cities, and our man made environment behind can enlighten us of what our ancestors used to wholeheartedly know. Like a fish going from an aquarium back to the ocean, there's still huge, vast expanses of wild out there for us to explore.
And as any fish in an aquarium would agree, your natural habitat is worth exploring.