Spraining My Brain on the Universe

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My Astronomy class last semester was twelve weeks of reading textbook pages over and over while working homework problems. Twelve weeks of waiting for the physics muscles of my brain to stop being sore and start being buff.

There is something very knotty in trying to grasp the knowledge of planets, galaxies and atomic particles that I can’t imagine moving faster than I can imagine in a universe bigger than I can imagine. I can’t even completely comprehend that we’re hurtling through space right now, thousands of kilometers an hour.

Astonishing, ridiculous, unbelievable, huge. Those were words I thought a lot, times when I drove home blinking away prickly tears of wonder because it was just so COOL and my brain could not bear up under the weight of so much new enormous knowledge.

The week after classes ended we went camping. A few days filled with familiar woods, a small clearing with a small tent, a warm sleeping bag and friends. It was a lot of simplicity and joy.

We went hiking on our last day; strolling down that quiet, shady path life felt small, and immediate.  My world was nothing more than a cool breeze, the sound of birds, and feet plopping through soft, muddy ground. In that space of time it was exactly enough. To spend life wandering though a green forest, never thinking beyond what adventure I might have today and when my next food time is.

But into that little moment crowded the unimaginable universe along with our own beautiful, broken world: the wars, the droughts, the latest inventions, the newest masterpieces of science and art. It gave me such an achy feeling of juxtaposition, not sure if I wanted to change the world, or escape it.  

Which is worse? Forgoing simple pleasures and small wonders for the stress of grandeur and discovery, or forgetting the rest of the world in favor of a life lived in small, rich moments.

I feel like both are irresponsible and leave me missing out on some important piece of the human experience. So I’m left with the tricky, exciting task of finding some balance, and the ultimately comforting knowledge that the reach of God is both infinitely large and infinitely small.

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How to Scare A Wild Animal 101

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I love camping. Even in my younger years when sleeping in a tent meant lying awake for an hour worrying over the wild animals that must be prowling about our shelter. These days those thoughts only keep me awake for a few minutes.

Getting comfortable with the outdoors at night, the creepies and the crawlies and the snufflies and the howlies, is one of my biggest goals for the next year. Having married a fellow who grew up roaming the wilds of Pennsylvania, and now intending to spend a good four or five months hiking the Appalachian Trail with him, this goal has become very important.

I’ve made a lot of progress. Not enough yet to brave a solo nightimte trek to the outhouse, but enough that when we went camping for a few days last week I barely even entertained the thought of how many coyotes would be circling our campsite that night.

When we crawled into our tent the first night I fell asleep happy serenaded by the forest and the sleepy breathing of my friends. As the dreamer of many odd dreams, it didn’t bother me that sometime in the middle of the night I started dreaming that my fellow campmates were talking about a raccoon in the tent. As I confidently reassured them that there were no raccoons in the tent I slowly realized that I was awake and had woken up to a whispered conversation about a raccoon possibly in our campsite.

We had dragged the majority of our food into the tent the night before, but had left a small sealed cooler and a carton of eggs wrapped in a plastic bag on the picnic table. During my first moments of wakefulness there was quiet discussion over whether or not there really was an animal on the picnic table, whether or not it really was a raccoon, and whether it really was trying to get into the food.

We were all four awake by this time, lying nervously, our ears straining for stray rustles and snuffles. Until in the silence came the sudden loud crash of the cooler falling off the bench. I sat bolt upright, all disorientation gone. Visions of a fat, greedy raccoon feasting on my precious bacon danced in my head. Peering out the tent window I clapped my hands and loudly shouted “Hey!” No reaction. No one moved.

“Guys! he’s taking our food!”

But the time for talking was gone. Throwing off the sleeping bag and unzipping the door I spilled out onto the dewy grass. I couldn’t see a thing without my contacts but my blindness only made me bolder. With a shout I bolted towards the picnic table, hissing and clapping and prancing as ferociously as I knew how.

With a sudden scuttle and a frantic rustle of plastic bag came the sound of a startled raccoon dashing off into the forest leaving me and my adrenaline rush standing victorious.

As I rounded the end of the table I could see scattered eggs glowing in the moonlight. The carton, the bag and the coon were gone, but they had left a trail of eggs in their wake, eight of which were miraculously unbroken. I gathered them together and piled them into the empty spaces of the cooler. Climbing back into the tent confidently carrying the rescued cooler, I felt like a conquering hero.

Curling up in my sleeping bag with a few giddy giggles I closed my eyes peacefully and didn’t wake for the rest of the night.

Lara- 1, Scary Wild Animals- 0