I was in the living room of the Susquehannock Lodge in Potter County, PA, when the words of Stash Nawrocki, an amateur astronomer, really struck a chord. He remarked that nobody looks up any more, noting that with the advent of digital watches, TV and cellphones, the sky is no longer used as a way to tell time, set harvest schedules or even predict the weather.
Even though I am of a generation before computers and cellphones, it’s hard now to imagine life without them. And one of the problems with this is that sometimes it makes it almost impossible to disconnect from everything going on in the world even if you want to go off the grid for a while
I’ve recently been on a couple of trips where cellphone reception, much less Internet access, was not available. Add to that the fact that where I was staying didn’t have TVs in the rooms, and I was pretty much left to my own devices—or lack of devices—to make my own entertainment.
So let’s go back to the stars. When was the last time that you put your phone down, walked outside, and looked up? While the view may not be great in urban areas, once you get out of the city, the sheer immensity of the night sky may overwhelm you. There’s nothing like standing under thousands of twinkling stars to remind you about just how amazing this world is.
Two places that are perfect for this ‘unplugged’ experience are Potter County, PA and Big Bend, TX. Pennsylvania’s north woods area is home to Cherry Springs State Park, which is famous for its views of the Milky Way, stars and even planets. You don’t have to worry about light pollution in this 82-acre state park, which sits in the middle of the 262,000-acre Susquehannock State Forest; in fact, in 2003, the PA Department of Natural Resources named it its first Dark Sky Park.
You can have a similar experience in Big Bend, TX, which has the distinction of being the park with the least light pollution in the lower 48 states. More than 2,000 stars and planets are visible to the naked eye—what is not as readily available is cell service, which is limited and fairly undependable.
Even if you don’t want to gaze at stars, you can get back in touch with your immediate surroundings by spending some time unplugged. A recent visit to Capon Springs in Hampshire County, WV, reminded me what it was like to swap stories with strangers instead of sharing memes online.
With no cell service or TVs in the rooms, people were naturally drawn to the covered outdoor dining area, where we sat next to a roaring fire and listened to two brothers playing bluegrass music. After a time, people began singing along, and when the band took a break, people actually took a moment to talk to each other, which made for a really memorable evening.
During the day, I took part in a flag-raising ceremony and watched a group of people take a polar bear plunge in the outdoor pool—two events that I would have missed had I had my eyes on the Internet. And while I can’t say that I could go for months without being connected, having a break to just enjoy real moments in real life seemed like a very special treat.
While I know it isn’t easy to leave the electronic world behind for long, try to take at least some time—especially if you have kids—to reorient yourself with the real world. You might find that stars, instead of screens, become your preferred viewing pleasure.
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