As children, we all begin life with an intense interest in our surroundings. We are naturally curious and want to investigate everything in our local universe. Like a candle flame, this interest can be snuffed out all too soon or it can be protected and nurtured. Some of us are fortunate enough to have parents and/or teachers who encourage our explorations and provide us with opportunities to expand them.
When I was young my family moved from West Tennessee to Athens, Georgia, where I grew up. Family camping trips to the North Georgia mountains, Florida Keys, and even California, helped to spark my life-long interest in the outdoors. I had the usual rock collections, leaf collections, ant farms, terrariums (with turtles and snakes), as well as pet dogs, hamsters, and white mice.
Around this time, also, the space program was kicking into high gear and I became interested in astronomy and space exploration. When I was about ten, my parents gave me my first telescope – a little 2.5-inch reflector with a cardboard tube and a metal ball mount. It was actually pretty good for a first scope and I spent a lot of time looking at the Moon — which was about all I knew how to find. I spent many cold winter evenings moongazing and many a summer evening watching satellites and meteors overhead while my parents and neighbors sat in lawn chairs and talked.
Later, when I was eighteen, I built a 6-inch reflector telescope. I got my first jaw-dropping looks at Saturn and Jupiter and many of the brighter “deep sky” objects such as the Orion Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy, and the Hercules Star Cluster.
Now (forty-two years later), I am fortunate to live on one hundred acres of woods, streams, and fields back in semi-rural West Tennessee — a sort of backyard nature preserve where I can continue to study plants and animals, collect rocks and fossils, and observe weather patterns as well as the night sky. I currently use an 18-inch & a 12.5-inch reflector and a 120mm refractor for numerous deep sky excursions, but I still observe the Moon, planets, and meteors, as well as sky phenomena such as sun dogs and Moon halos. For me, it’s all tied together under the umbrella of “nature.”