Photo Courtesy of Ella Peeples.
I had never been in such black darkness, quite so cold, or gripped by an emotion I didn’t have a name for before. It was September 16th. I was visiting Cherry Springs Dark Sky Park on the weekend mindfulness stargazing trip sponsored by Mindfulness at F&M and the Physics and Astronomy departments. Elon Musk’s Starlink floated by overhead. An industrial strength laser pointed out constellations beaming across the sky to connect faraway stars. I was in awe, and a tear made its way down my cheek. The path it left was cold.
Our trip was a wonderful experience. We started with a four-hour road trip from F&M to Ulysses, PA, where we stayed. When we arrived, the sun had just gone down, and we went outside in the backyard to do some stargazing. I took what are undeniably some of the best iPhone photos of my life (see below) and asked what were probably stupid questions to Prof. Ryan Trainer of the astrophysics department, all of which he took in stride and answered with kindness. I saw Saturn through one of the telescopes Prof. Trainer set up with help from Delaney Adair and Menelaos Raptis.
But sitting on the ground there in Cherry Springs I was gripped by something special: an awareness of the world around me, beneath me, of the gravity holding my body to this Earth. I’m grateful for this opportunity, the people I’ve met, and the place I’m in. Harry Styles’ “Satellite” played distantly in the back of my mind as I watched a shooting star cross the sky.
My legs were sore from our hike in Leonard Harrison State Park earlier, a beautiful but brutal two-mile hike through what is called the “Pennsylvania Grand Canyon.” Punctuated by waterfalls and steep gradients interrupted by staircases, the hike was a wonderful opportunity to key into the world around me, listening to the sound of the water rushing and the birds chirping. I had a chance to consider my breaths as I steadily worked my way up steep gradients, my pulse loud in my ears.
When I got back to the top of the hill, one of the slower people making my way back up, I was greeted by a group of smiling faces offering a moment to pause and chat, a snack break, and a grin of accomplishment. We absolutely devoured our snacks and hoped our legs would ache less later, expressing our excitement for our visit to Cherry Springs. We didn’t know it yet, but that night would be an astounding experience.
Now, a week later, when I’m walking back to my dorm and the sky has gone dark, I find my head tipping back. If I’m attentive, I can clue my eyes into the stars that were so bright that night yet so faded here in Lancaster. I’m washed over with a watered-down memory of the awe that had settled into my bones with the cold of northern Pennsylvania at midnight, and I smile to myself.
I strongly recommend considering other trips F&M mindfulness will put on in the future. Thank you to Joe Pritchett, Louise LoBello, and Prof. Ryan Trainer for organizing this amazing trip that has changed the way I look up at the sky and down at my feet.
Sophomore Ella Peeples is a Contributing Writer. Her email is email@example.com.