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First printed in
The Morning News
of Northwest Arkansas
Aubrey's Notebook:
Dipper, Full Moon Evoke Memories

The full moon hadn't risen high enough to outshine the stars when I drove north out of El Dorado.

U.S. 167 between El Dorado and the Ouachita River bridge at Calion is one of the few remaining stretches of major highway in Arkansas where a motorist can enjoy the old-time pleasure of driving between rows of sheltering trees. Looking above the highway, which actually runs northeast there, I spotted the Big Dipper. The "handle" was down, seemingly starting in the canyon between the trees. The "cup" portion of the dipper was above, with its outermost pair of stars directly in line to point the way to the North Star, which was barely out of sight behind the timber on my left.

Duck hunters on the water before dawn and night fishermen still sometimes have to refer to the stars to find a destination on lakes, rivers and flooded fields. Motorists mostly follow road signs and manmade landmarks. But I felt a thrill when I saw the familiar constellation. Seeing it framed by tall trees made the sight particularly exciting.

My mind went back to my childhood, when my grandparents often pointed out the stars to me. There was radio but no television to dominate evenings around home. Now, of course, there are programs on the educational television stations that authoritatively teach the patterns of the heavens. But the things people passed from generation to generation used to be a large part of the early education of most children.

My father, Sidney James Shepherd, frequently used the stars for guidance as he maneuvered a small boat through the flooded dead timber on the huge flat areas of Caddo Lake in the 1950s. He could find his duck blind without hitting a stump and without using a flashlight long before dawn. In summer, he could work his way to a special brush pile far out in the lake for an all-night crappie-fishing session.

Good flashlights aren't expensive these days. But old-timers didn't have them. Plenty of outdoor enthusiasts today can navigate by the stars. Plenty are confident enough to hike, drive or pilot a boat without lights. But far too many young people don't get the opportunity to travel at night with the benefit of nothing but natural light.

Geography and astronomy are neglected in many schools. Historically, they were among the most important subjects, both in academic settings and in basic practical situations.

Outdoor-sport enthusiasts must pay attention to geography. The flow of streams, the patterns of timber and ridges and valleys on land and beneath the water of huge reservoirs are always important in finding success hunting and fishing.

Fish and wildlife are controlled by natural structure. Anglers and hunters must learn where the creatures find food and shelter in order to find the fish and wildlife.

While youngsters who hunt and fish are likely to have a natural interest in learning geography and astronomy, youngsters who seldom participate in outdoor sports may need to be taught the ways that such subjects can be of practical value to them.

Taking a youngster outside to view the night sky could be as important as taking a youngster hunting or fishing.

And no special equipment is needed. The sky is everywhere.


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Aubrey James Shepherd
Fayetteville, AR © 2003, 2004, 2005

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