For a kid growing up in a big city, one would think that the only stars I would know of and admire would be those that grace the big screen and the stage. Yet thanks to an upbringing by a family of environmentalists and a childhood spent outdoors as much as possible, my eyes were drawn to the heavens rather than just the cityscape.
Six years ago on a coarse, sandy beach, the calm breeze scooted light clouds across the beautiful, Cape Cod night sky. With the pouncing sand fleas nipping at your ankles, there stood my grandfather and myself.
Grandude spent most of his life outdoors whenever he could. In a small town outside of Boston, he was involved in the local Boy Scouts troop with my father, and his family would spend their free time in the White Mountains or at any local beauty throughout New England. We grew up hearing his tales from the tops of the Presidentials or the wild beaches of Plum Island.
Despite spending my entire life in the urban sprawl of the Windy City, my father passed Grandude’s appreciation for the world onto my three brothers and me. We spent every summer traveling as a family across the country to visit national parks. We would talk about their importance as us peppy, young boys walked, talked, and hiked with our parents.
Our family would escape the big lights of the city for the starry skies of the peninsula that is Door County, Wisconsin. We would be camping out with the wildlife and learning how to whittle tiny boats out of twigs or what proper trail etiquette was. In kindergarten, I remember sitting next to the lake with my father and brothers as my dad told us about the constellations, with my young mind wondering about the stunning views up above.
Flash forward to the summer after graduating eighth grade: I had just received my first DSLR camera from my mother, a professional photographer. Immediately I began documenting everything in sight, and eventually also what was not so clear to the naked eye where I live.
The summer of 2012, Grandude had noticed my passion for photography and invited me to join him after sunset at the nearby beach, where my brothers and cousins spent many hours as children. With our wobbly tripods jamming as the gritty sand snuck its way into the components of the camera stands, we turned our lenses to the heavens and I was shown how to photograph the stars.
This lesson quickly became an integral part of whenever I would travel – I always wanted to see how the stars would twinkle their lights across the world. I tried it on every camping trip, where I would be blessed with a sky lit up like in the movies. While in cities, my images reflected the blaring light from the streets, drowning out the heavenly horizons.
My interest in star photography developed from something to practice into a way for me to appreciate the magical things that the environment has to offer. While my eyes were on the skies throughout my camping and traveling during my late teenage years, my mind began to ponder the impacts of light pollution on viewing the beauty above. At the end of this story is an interactive map showing my astral documentations across the world since 2012.
Piercing through the hazy, bright night skies of Chicago, you can usually pick out a star or two on a good day thanks to the rampant light pollution found here. It’s only once you get outside of the urban sprawl that you can truly experience the greatness Mother Nature can provide, both in outer space and right here on Earth.
We lost Grandude in 2015 but his memories live on with me through my passion for nature and star photography. It is at this intersection where I feel like he is still most present, and I find much of my drive to do environmental reporting through his love for the environment.
From up above to the vast surface of our planet, I learned that it is incredibly important to do what is possible to preserve and protect the stunning landscapes that we all call home. Through the vista of the skies seen in my experiences of photographing stars, I find inspiration to do my job as an environmental correspondent for Planet Forward by bringing light to sustainability news. As stunning as the sight of stars is, it is only attainable when pollution is not shrouding the views. This is almost poetically reflective of the beauty of the world despite the trials of unsustainable actions.
Through the fleeting memories of nights on a beach with my grandfather and our cameras, I have been inspired to appreciate everything around me while understanding the gravity of what’s at stake with our planet’s at-risk state.