This summer, lose the gadgets and let nature entertain you

bobmcdonald-190.jpgBy Bob McDonald, Quirks and Quarks

While travelling through the mountains of B.C. recently, I was stunned by the sight of young people sitting in the back seat of a family car, watching videos on an overhead screen while some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet passed by outside the window.

This summer, try turning off the gadgets and let nature do the entertaining.

The natural world has much more to offer than an animated cartoon, and it's not hard to tune into nature's channel. Whatever vacation plans your family has this summer, make sure there is some time spent outside, without the cell phone in hand or some other electronic device blinking in your face.

If your plans involve travel by car, pick up a bird book, or information on the geography of the area you'll pass through and make a game out of looking out the window along the way. Pose challenges such as, "How many birds can you spot? What kind are they? Find me a drumlin." (Hint: There are lots of them in southern Ontario)

Or ask, "Why are those rocks pink? Why does that hillside have lines in it like a layer cake? What kind of clouds are those and why do they have that shape?"

Many people feel that to reach nature you have to visit one of our great national or provincial parks, but in fact, there is a lot to see along the way, as well as in that urban park down the street, if you look closely enough.

Get your face down to ground level, smell the dirt and turn over some rocks to see what's crawling around underneath. Why aren't those bugs crushed by the weight of the rock? Check out the bottom of a stream by poking it with a stick. You might see more life, or you might get a stick full of smelly muck. Where did that come from?

And don't forget the night sky. There are three planets up this summer: Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. If you don't have a telescope, try a pair of binoculars. You might catch the four moons around Jupiter, the way Galileo saw them.

If you get to a really dark sky and see the Milky Way arching overhead, think about its enormous size, a huge pinwheel 100,000 light years across that takes 250 million years to turn just once. And we're riding along inside it. While you're at it, don't forget the Perseid meteor shower on Aug. 11.

Of course, you can't completely avoid electronics; so, watch the news on Aug. 6 as a space probe called Rosetta comes within 100 km of a comet with the long name 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko, or "C-G" for short. The spacecraft left Earth in 2004 and will remain with the comet for about a year, as it travels around the sun to see what happens on the surface, and the space snowball develops a tail. In November, the spacecraft will send a lander down to sit on the comet for an even closer look.
Meanwhile, there is much to see and do on this world and all you have to do is step outside. Get connected with your planet this summer. You'll be amazed.