Tired of watching your kids play video games on camping trips? Did you take them to a beautiful spot in nature to get them to ACTUALLY ENJOY nature? I’ve been there. To be honest, I was once that kid with the video games. Every year of my life I’ve traveled to Northern Minnesota with my dad to a family cabin. We hike, fish, swim, waterski and relax in the great outdoors. My dad always referred to our little spot as “God’s Country.” He was right.
There are differences in opinion about the cabin and how to best enjoy it amongst my family members. One uncle likes to really rough it. That’s why we’ve never installed a hot water heater or shower. My aunt likes to give her kids more options for fun, which is why there’s a powerboat. My dad was somewhere in the middle, and I suppose I’ve adopted his perspective.
I love to rough it. Watching a spark turn to a flame turn to a blaze as you start a bonfire is a wonderful thing. The wind plays music through the leaves at night. Every animal plays its part, even the awful mosquitos. The world keeps spinning on as it always has, and always will, and with that comes advancements. These things, smart phones, computers, TVs with 500 channels, ereaders and more, are wonderful things. They help us discover more in the world around us, but they can also serve as distractions.
I remember when my brother and I were about 10 years old we convinced our dad to let us bring a video game system up to the cabin. My brother was more of a gamer than I at the time, so he was glued to that thing nonstop. I played some, but spent a bit more time with my dad. We were over at a neighbor’s cabin one night while my brother stayed at the cabin and played video games. He was sitting right in front of the large bay windows overlooking the lake. A bear walked right through the yard and he didn’t notice. A neighbor saw it. Not him. He missed out. Neither of us had ever seen a wild bear, and we had a deal with our dad that the first one to see a bear would get $5.
I saw my first wild bear this last trip. It was a large black bear and was watching the cars drive by on a highway. After I passed, it crossed the road and ran into the woods. My first bear. I told my dad about it when I came home. It was a bittersweet moment, as my dad passed away in April. I stood at his grave and told him all about my trip. I reflected on how much I enjoy the great outdoors and how much of this love came from my dad.
I thought back on my brother and I playing video games, and it occurred to me that at some point I stopped playing them on vacations, but my brother never did. He hasn’t traveled to Minnesota in years. He never developed a love for it. I think this is probably in part due to his reliance on electronics. I love my phone and computer as much as the next guy, but the most beautiful things to see and experience in this world don’t have low battery warnings. You can capture some of the beauty of a sunset with a camera, but that’s just a single snapshot of something that is, in it’s truest form, far more beautiful.
Check out the picture above. That’s my cousin’s dog Simon. We were out boating one night and this image just happened before me and I was lucky enough to get a photo. My cousins and I were reminiscing on a pontoon boat about our wilder days in high school, and Simon hopped up to take a closer look at a loon. He’s kinda crazy, so we had to be careful he didn’t jump off the boat after it, but he laid down on that armrest and enjoyed the gentle rocking of the boat and cooling temperature. That was a beautiful moment. And it was made better because I could capture it with my phone, but after I took the picture the phone went back in my pocket and I continued with the conversation.
My cousin’s kids, the little monsters, love to play in the water make up games and get dirty. I like that. But the Olympics were on during the trip and they wanted to watch the games. I’ve never cared very much about the Olympics, and I’ve certainly never cared enough to skip a bonfire or sunset for them. My brother would probably miss out. He never figured out how lovely something like a bonfire can be. I looked at my cousins kids and decided, on a clear night, that they should take a better look at the heavens with my spotting scope.
I’d brought along a Celestron Ultima 80 Spotting Scope to try out. The package includes a tripod and is exclusive to OpticsPlanet, so I wanted to run it through its paces much like I did with the Blackhawk Sling Backpack and Streamlight ProTac Flashlight.
I like reading about astronomy and looking at photos taken from high powered telescopes, but I’ve never been great at setting up my own gear and star gazing. I decided to give it a shot with the Ultima 80. It turns out this is a real breeze. The tripod and spotting scope connect quickly and easily even the first time you set it up, and it’s a very stable platform overall. The sky was absolutely gorgeous that night, and the moon was especially big. I swear I never see it so big here in Illinois. The light reflected off the water perfectly.
I walked out to the end of the dock. There was almost no breeze. The water hardly rippled at all. A long moment passed as I admired the sky. The moment was unfortunately broken by the sound of the Olympics from the cabin. I decided to bring out the Celestron Ultima 80 and let the kids take a look.
For an unobscured look I set up the spotting scope on the end of the dock. There was plenty of space to get around the scope, and as long as I was careful there wasn’t too much risk of the kids knocking it into the water. I called them each out in turn and made sure they didn’t all just try to grab it at once. I’ve learned over the years that if you have something cool you only need to show one kid, let him or her leave, and the rest will come. Ian was my first astronomer. He’s easily the loudest of the bunch, so I knew he’d spread the word in a flash.
We had a great night for taking a look at the moon. It was a full moon, which is not as good as a quarter moon (you get more and deeper shadows during a quarter moon), but it was so clear you could see some really great detail. As with anytime you look at the moon, we saw the coolest things on the outer edges. If you look right at the brightest spots you’ll pretty much just see light. Around the edges you can see craters that are no doubt thousands of years old.
I didn’t bring a full digiscoping rig, but I did have my iPhone with me. It’s not really intended for this purpose, but digiscoping is the simple process of lining up a digital camera with a high powered optic like a telescope, spotting scope or binocular. I decided to give it a try, and as you can see above, it worked out very well! You can really see the craters on the right side of the photo. It was far clearer with the naked eye, and no doubt you could get a much better photo with a better camera and a spotting scope mount, but it still worked incredibly well for a quick pic!
Each kid was given a chance to take a closer look at the moon, and I heard more than one, “Whoa!” The best part was that afterward we all sat by a bonfire and watched the stars. For at least that night the Olympics were over.
It can prove quite challenging to get kids away from the TV and their video games for a while. Most of the time when you’re successful they have far more fun outside than they ever would inside. I suppose they won’t all learn to love the outdoors as I have, but maybe whatever love for the outdoors I inherited from my dad will pass on to them and maybe my own kids some day. If you take along the right camping gear or astronomy equipment, like the Celestron Ultima 80, I’m betting you’ll be able to get your kids away from their electronics long enough for them to figure out there’s something to this whole ‘nature’ thing.