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Restless Idealism and the Night Sky

Holiday River Expeditions—a rafting and biking tour outfit in Utah—in partnership with Clark Planetarium, has been digging deeper into the questions of the night sky, and offering a series of “Stargazing” trips during every new moon of the summer months. The tour takes people into Canyonlands National Park, a designated International Dark Sky Place. Holiday River Expeditions staff member, Lauren Wood, is particularly aware of the deep significance of night sky experiences for humanity and writes thoughtfully about her love of the night.

Guest post by Lauren Wood

The night sky is a wonder to behold, by which I mean something I wonder about. There are so many ways that science and technology have expanded our understanding of the universe, but the inexplicable feeling of boundlessness, humility and awe is something that has existed for the entirety of human existence. While these rare moments of solitude seem few and far between compared to our ancient ancestors’ nightly communions, the basic feelings evoked are the same. The dark sky is humanity’s best muse for metacognition, often inspiring us to wonder, “what is my place in all of this?”

I spend my summers running rivers. Working with Holiday River Expeditions, I row long wooden oars, bake delicious treats in hot dutch ovens, construct sound tarp canopies on rainy days and sleep under the stars on cloudless nights. This lifestyle has gifted me with an intimate and persistent relationship with my greatest questions, often asked into the churning silence of my own head while staring at constellations and shooting stars. I grew up with this lifestyle as the norm, spending summers covered in sand on a bank of some river—the Green, the San Juan, the Yampa, the Colorado—making castles out of wet sands, carving images into mud, then watching them wash away by a rising shoreline.

I learned the names of birds and mammals, native plants and invasive species, how to avoid the soil-crust that held the desert together and how to tie a proper bowline. I also learned a bit about stars. I was never an expert but I didn’t need to be to get the best parts out of the darkness. Often times I simply sat on a rock, staring up at the sky while everyone else was asleep and feeling my body almost vibrating with wonder. To feel so deeply alone, and yet connected to everything was a lesson I learned and carried with me into adulthood. It gave me strength to build solid relationships, humility to work as part of a team, and the incredible power to say the words “I don’t know.”  

As a guide with Holiday, I am often heartened by guests on our trips having those same moments of awakening—realizations of interconnection and the vastness of the questions we have yet to answer.  Because I have spent nights vibrating on rocks with the ecstatic realization that I am alive on this earth—in this galaxy, in this universe, and knowing that means something—I can see the same awe in others’ eyes.  

Holiday River has been digging deeper into the boundless questions of the night sky, and offering a series of “Stargazing” trips during every new moon of the summer months. We invite experts to join us, from the nerdiest of astro-wizes to world-renowned dark-sky experts, which gives us guides a chance to learn from those who share that deep connection. Getting a chance to marvel with each other about the wonders above our heads has been such a delight.

River trips may offer the chance to run wild whitewater rapids or see incredible ancient dwellings, but more importantly, they offer a chance to connect with yourself. This profound sense of connection happens naturally when you have the space, time, and views of the middle of nowhere. I’d like to think staring at the dark sky makes us better people, each more grounded in our particular purpose in life. There isn’t hard science yet to prove that, it’s just my own experience. And even though we know so much more about the night sky than our ancestors, we still have so much to learn.