full moon hadn't risen high enough to outshine the stars when I
drove north out of El Dorado.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
and astronomy are neglected in many schools. Historically, they
were among the most important subjects, both in academic settings
and in basic practical situations.
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.
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.
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.
a youngster outside to view the night sky could be as important
as taking a youngster hunting or fishing.
no special equipment is needed. The sky is everywhere.