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Dark site anxiety

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#1 MSH

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Posted 18 June 2021 - 01:54 PM

I'm wondering if there are any other beginners that are having the same troubles I have, or tips from more experienced people. The last two or three times I've tried to make a trip somewhere to do observing I get too anxious and have to leave. Maybe it's because I've already had some strange random encounters trying to observe in Toronto during the lockdown, but a few days ago I drove over an hour out of the city to a spot, spent another 45 minutes setting everything up, and only lasted about 30 minutes of observing before I had to pack everything back into the car and drive home (I was planning on being there all night but left before midnight).

 

Part of me is worried about getting in trouble for trespassing or being in a provincial park after closing, but I'm not sure how much of a concern that is. Last time I was at Richardson's Lookout Point near the Ganaraska forest. No one was really there but the whole time I felt uncomfortable like I wasn't supposed to be there. Maybe I'm just crazy, I don't know... I thought I would be more excited, because I haven't seen dark skies like that in at least 15 years, and never through a telescope, but it still wasn't enough to keep me out there and the whole trip felt like a failure. 

 

For what it's worth, I've already been to a doctor and have some 'as needed' anti-anxiety medication, but trying to observe under the influence isn't fun, and I have enough trouble star hoping as it is. When I try to google 'stargazing anxiety' all I really see are articles on how stargazing is supposed to help with anxiety, not do the opposite!

 

One mistake I know I made was trying to carry too much heavy stuff too far, which wore me out (Richardson's Point is uphill and I had to make two trips with a CG-5 and G8-N). I also forgot some bugspray. Besides that I'm not sure what else I could do to make things easier. Any suggestions would be appreciated.


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#2 dustyc

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Posted 18 June 2021 - 02:10 PM

One benefit of joining a club. Like minded members can join you out on a trip. 

Check the rules regarding the park or lookout point. As long as you don't look like your camping there, what's the harm?


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#3 Sam M

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Posted 18 June 2021 - 02:12 PM

Oh man, what a bummer.  Sounds like you need a spot that you know you are allowed to be.  Often you can call ahead to the park office, and ask, at least down here in the states.  Another option is to see if there's a local club that has prearranged dark sites.  I only had what happened to you happen to me once.  It was a club site, and I didn't belong to the club, and I could hear ATVs driving around, and the skies weren't great that night anyway.  I've encountered police, and park rangers, and concerned neighbors.  Usually you can get by on a big goofy smile, and an attitude that says, "Hi, I'm a nerd.  See my nerdy telescope.  Want to look at Saturn?  I drove a long way to enjoy the beautiful skies you have here."  It usually turns into an impromptu outreach session.


Edited by Sam M, 18 June 2021 - 02:12 PM.

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#4 DuluthLaker

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Posted 18 June 2021 - 02:14 PM

I feel you on this topic. I have a diagnosed anxiety myself and I’ve had a few occasions in the past where I’ve gone to a dark site (public property - nothing private) where I always assumed worst case scenario was some law enforcement folks would ask me to leave.

But I would go and set everything up and, just like you said, have anxiety over being there. The whole idea of stargazing to me is to relax and unwind and I felt the complete opposite. So I didn’t stay too long. Sometimes it was anxiety about someone creeping up on me, other times it was getting “caught” and other times it was those lovely bumps in the night of something rustling through the tall grass nearby (likely a raccoon or skunk or something but in my mind a puma :) ).

Now that I’ve gotten back into the hobby recently with a new scope, I’ve been looking for dark places. I found one in a local discussion on another forum that’s about an hour from me where it’s known to be a regular amateur astronomer hangout by local authorities and there’s rarely any trouble. I also reached out to my local city parks department to get some guidance on locations here in my city as well to try to ease the “getting caught” issue.

I’m curious to see what others have to say here - you’re definitely not alone!
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#5 Moravianus

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Posted 18 June 2021 - 02:35 PM

One option I contemplate now is purchasing your own property, even if this is only a flattened hill.

 

Even if I go to the club site sometimes there is nobody there and if some drunk kid drives in, what then..

Lately I also go to real remote places to arrive at dusk where I know beside coyotes nobody will bother me. When I will get the reserved Ford Bronco, it will be even easier. I might consider to get a gun.

 

 

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#6 MarMax

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Posted 18 June 2021 - 02:47 PM

We've made a couple trips now to Darwin, CA which is very dark at SQM 21.99. The strange thing there is the wild burros which are active at night. It's a bit eerie to hear them walking all around when you can't see anything. At times it sounds like they are only a few feet away when they are actually more like 50 feet or more.


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#7 jjbroomco

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Posted 18 June 2021 - 02:49 PM

I can relate to how you feel, being a fairly new observer myself. Here is what I have learned in my first year of scouting good locations:

I did join a local club, but I decided not to go to their supposedly “dark” site with others. There were too many “rules” and worrying that was I going to upset people if I accidentally produced any white light. It’s the same reason I’m not interested in star parties. Too many people.

I found places to observe in my state that were even darker than some of the club sites. The key (for me, anyway) to alleviate the anxiety of whether or not it was legal or that I wouldn’t be harassed was sticking only to state or national parks. Or, US Forest Service designated campgrounds. The forest service often creates motor vehicle use maps, which show exactly where I can do dispersed camping, and what lands are private. But in the few trips I’ve had, I tended to stick to known picnic sites and campgrounds.

Knowing I’m in a state park campground has helped me relax and enjoy the night sky. And it is truly relaxing (and dark!), especially in the early spring or fall when I’m one of few people in the entire park. It’s fun to listen to the owls and coyotes in the distance. The locations I chose were also free from rattlesnakes, bears, and mountain lions. That would make me nervous for sure.
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#8 havasman

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Posted 18 June 2021 - 03:02 PM

Hi MSH and welcome to the forums!

 

I think preparation can be a defense against anxiety. Chose a location for which there is a responsible contact like a park Ranger who can assure you that it's OK to be there and who then will be aware of your presence. Making and using an observing gear packing list can help you know you have everything you will need all packed up before departure. An observing list of objects you plan to look up in a session can alleviate the problem of what to see next. Building that list can help build some confidence that you are prepared.

 

Stepping away from the scope, sitting for a minute listening to the night and looking at the naked eye sights can be calming too. I always enjoy mingling in a few of these interludes.

 

Finally, the suggestion of finding a local club is a good one. For many folks, having like-minded observers around is enjoyable. Their experience with sites in your area can help in many ways.

 

Best of luck to you for increased success in your future sessions.


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#9 sevenofnine

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Posted 18 June 2021 - 03:40 PM

Hey, you got there and set up...that's a first step! I'm sure it will get easier in the future. Just go to the same place again but get there in daylight. Get familiar with your surroundings and leave one hour later than you did the last time and so on. Soon it will be your favorite spot. A bright led lantern or headlamp helps too. Seeing what's really there is much better than letting your imagination get the best of you. You will have better luck next time! waytogo.gif


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#10 moonrakercat

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Posted 18 June 2021 - 03:42 PM

Hi MSH - I think you just need to find a friend with a scope who wouldn't mind going with you and bringing their scope - that way there will be 2 of you and you will get used to it - trust me - once you do it 3 or 4 times - you don't get anxious - and you will relax right into the viewing and dso's - the night will pass fast.

 

I used to do it myself when I lived in Kitchener - take off to a dark site near conestoga lake around glen alan - it was on a big mennonite field high up - great views.   Although I had permission - the first few times were a bit awkward - but after that I enjoyed it more & more.   Funny at 2 or 3 in the morning the mennonites would drive by in their buggies in the dark after going drinking at each others place - I was a good 200' from the road - they didn't see me but I saw them - all the time, clop clop clop.

 

If I was close to TO I'd come with you - but your a trip from me.   A club like dusty suggested is a fantastic starting point.


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#11 Paul Sweeney

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Posted 18 June 2021 - 03:52 PM

I can completely understand your feelings. Humans have a natural fear of the dark, and of things that go "bump" in the night. I hate going out to some dark lonely spot in the middle of nowhere. Eyes on the sky, but ears perked, listening for anything unusual...
Join the local club. They will have their dark sites, and you won't have to go alone. Being in a group is much safer, and more fun, too.
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#12 ShaulaB

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Posted 18 June 2021 - 03:52 PM

As a woman observer, I never would go out observing by myself. Find a club near you. Members can tell you where safe, dark sites for observing are located.

Have you considered camping out over a weekend with a friend or family member? A few phone calls to park rangers might get you information on appropriate places to camp that are dark, but also patrolled as park property. Rangers for parks and conservation areas where I live are really happy to have telescope users show up. Our presence discourages fools with stupid habits from vandalizing or messing up the places.
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#13 Migwan

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Posted 18 June 2021 - 04:11 PM

Having permission or the right to be there would go a long way to alleviate the anxiety you describe.  I use a clearing in a state forest, so I haven't experienced that sort of anxiety. 

 

On the other hand, I've left a dark site early on a couple occasions when I first started.  I got spooked.  For me, staring into an eyepiece is like turning your back to the world of unknowns.  That can be unnerving. 

 

As Dick said, walking away from the scope to observe your surroundings for awhile is key to overcoming that, IMO.    Observing my surroundings on a dark night soon becomes rather boring and that alleviates any anxiety.  Even makes me want to get back to the eyepiece sooner.  smile.gif 

 

If that doesn't do it for you, having a crutch can help.   Observing close to your vehicle would likely help.  Having a big mag light or similar item of bulk can also bolster the old self assurance.   Eventually, you even get past such needs.

 

Good luck


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#14 BlueMoon

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Posted 18 June 2021 - 04:11 PM

As a woman observer, I never would go out observing by myself. Find a club near you. Members can tell you where safe, dark sites for observing are located.

Have you considered camping out over a weekend with a friend or family member? A few phone calls to park rangers might get you information on appropriate places to camp that are dark, but also patrolled as park property. Rangers for parks and conservation areas where I live are really happy to have telescope users show up. Our presence discourages fools with stupid habits from vandalizing or messing up the places.

+1 Solid advice. Anecdote: Every other year I buy a 2 yr. pass (it's discounted to promote tourism) to all the State Parks here in Idaho and most of them are fairly dark sites. If you have something similar in Canada, it might be worth looking into yourself. In all my travels to State and National Parks I can say I've never had an issue other than a few drunks (they weren't bothering me personally but they were a bit loud) and the Park Rangers took care of that.

 

Clear skies.


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#15 SirLoyne

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Posted 18 June 2021 - 04:43 PM

I lucked out and found a nice open field in a Bortle 3 zone about 60 minutes away. (I'm in a 6.) It's owned by an older couple and they said I can go there any time I want. Perhaps you could find something like that. Use google maps to look for an open area and go exploring. That's how I found my spot.

 

Edit: I should note that you would use google maps in satellite view.


Edited by SirLoyne, 19 June 2021 - 02:54 AM.

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#16 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 18 June 2021 - 05:24 PM

 

I'm wondering if there are any other beginners that are having the same troubles I have, or tips from more experienced people.

 

MSH: 

 

I think it's probably natural to feel a certain amount of anxiety when alone in the the dark, it's the self-preservation instinct. Added anxiety due to  being concerned about whether or not your should be there are not only makes it worse. You're always looking over your shoulder for both the bad things and people that might harm you as well as the good people who are there to protect you and the park.

 

Reading Cloudy Nights and other forums, I think many prefer to observe with others just for this reason, there's safety in numbers, you can let your guard down.

 

Myself, I'm generally OK observing alone. One thing is there San Diego county is like most of the west, a great deal of national forest and other government land that open to the public, finding a place to observe legally is never an issue.

 

But I have been spooked a couple of times, enough so that I just packed up and drove home.

 

I normally observe quite close to the US-Mexico border in relatively isolated areas where there is quite a bit of smuggling. I remember one time I was lost in the eyepiece when I became aware of an intermittent rustlng sound every 30 seconds or so.

 

It sounded like someone slowly sneaking up on me in the brush. It really freaked me out. I stopped observing and tried to figure out what was going on. I finally went to the car and got out a powerful flashlight to see if I could see what was happening. I didn't see anything but then I spotted a large owl just as it took flight from a nearby fence post.

 

It had just been an owl but the mood was broken and I loaded up and drove home.

 

Jon


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#17 Bill Weir

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Posted 18 June 2021 - 05:26 PM

You live in a city where there is an astronomy affiliation with probably around 1000 members. Join them and soon you will have the potential for many observing partners. Join!

https://rascto.ca

 

Bill


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#18 MSH

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Posted 18 June 2021 - 06:18 PM

It makes it easier to know I'm not the only one, thanks everyone for your replies. 

 

 

You live in a city where there is an astronomy affiliation with probably around 1000 members. Join them and soon you will have the potential for many observing partners. Join!

 

I've looked up the Toronto and North York clubs, I guess I should pick one and try it out. I haven't yet for the same reasons as jjbroomco mentioned earlier,  as well as being paranoid about the virus.

 

 

We've made a couple trips now to Darwin, CA which is very dark at SQM 21.99. The strange thing there is the wild burros which are active at night. It's a bit eerie to hear them walking all around when you can't see anything. At times it sounds like they are only a few feet away when they are actually more like 50 feet or more.

The worst I've heard so far is racoons fighting in the Toronto darkness, sounds like something (small) out of a horror movie.

 

 

Funny at 2 or 3 in the morning the mennonites would drive by in their buggies in the dark after going drinking at each others place - I was a good 200' from the road - they didn't see me but I saw them - all the time, clop clop

 

That's hilarious, I thought they weren't allowed to drink lol.gif I used to live in Kitchener, and Stratford before that. I used to give the buggies a wide berth on the highway to not spook the horses.

 

 

Have you considered camping out over a weekend with a friend or family member?

The best night I've had so far was observing with my brother, although he lives in another province and I live alone so those opportunities are limited. Definitely made it easier to stay out.

 

 

It sounded like someone slowly sneaking up on me in the brush. It really freaked me out. I stopped observing and tried to figure out what was going on. I finally went to the car and got out a powerful flashlight to see if I could see what was happening. I didn't see anything but then I spotted a large owl just as it took flight from a nearby fence post.

At one point when I was out I kept seeing lights in the trees and was worried it was someone with a flashlight looking around. It turned out to be fireflies, which I forgot were even a thing. Despite figuring this out after a while, every flash in the corner of my eye still freaked me out. Maybe it was just a bad day, I will try again soon.


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#19 MellonLake

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Posted 18 June 2021 - 07:15 PM

I live in the GTA and use two sites near the city:

 

1) The Long Sault Conservation Area parking lot.  There are often other observers there all year and it is frequented by the police looking for kids partying.  RASC Toronto uses this site.  It is Bortle 4-5 and most if not all Messier Objects are visible.  

2) The parking area of the Mountsberg conservation area on the west side of the lake.  There are often people here but not observers.

 

A little further away is:

The Lennox and Addition Dark Sky site (2.5 hours east) is a great spot I go all the time (I have a cottage near there).  Every weekend evening from May to Sept. there are generally other observers here.  Nearing the new moon there are often 5 to 20 observers.  It is a busy place.  On the July long weekend there are will be lots and lots of people out here as it is near the new moon, warm, the Milky way is starting to get high.  The site is Bortle 2 on a good night!!!! really really dark (there are many DSOs that are naked eye visible here, M31, Double Cluster, Small Sagittarius star cloud, etc.).  The only problem with this site is too many people and car lights.  It thins out around midnight and then the serious observers stay later.  My two teenage daughters and I will be out at the L&A site on any clear nights between the 1st and 3rd of July if you want to join (I am sure there will be lots of people otherwise as well). Bring "OFF" for the bugs.

 

Rob


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#20 GUS.K

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Posted 19 June 2021 - 01:10 AM

Moving to General observing and astronomy forum for a better fit


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#21 DirtyRod

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Posted 19 June 2021 - 01:26 AM

Good topic. I went out driving this evening looking for spots. According to the light pollution map, 30 mins west of me are bortle 5 skies so I went to see how different they look then my 7 skies. Stopped 4-5 times and it was definitely unnerving out in the dark even though I was just off to the side of the road. 
 

Glad it’s not just me and good tips.

 

Rod


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#22 izar187

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Posted 19 June 2021 - 07:34 AM

Very good advice shared by all.

 

Mostly (by far) I observe solo, out of town under rural sky and on public land, setting up there after dark.

What has worked best for me, is to be very familiar with the chosen observing site in daylight first.

So day trips there help.

Yes to a bright spotlight, even though you will eventually seldom ever use it.

Telescoping beside or right near the vehicle definitely. Sometimes not possible when with a group, and that's ok then.

But if I can't observe next to my vehicle when observing solo, then I use a different spot, where I can. 

Buy more bug repellent... and then leave some in the vehicle full time... I eventually learned.

 

Other choices specific for me, are to eat light before and hydrate during, rather than caffeinate when observing.

Makes for a calmer experience. For me. Hydrated also = better visual acuity. Versus being dehydrated.

Winter observing on public land taught me less is more: a simplified set up = simplified pack up before heading home.

Which equals more time at the eyepiece, due to less time gear futzing, with no dreading the pack up.

I listen to the sounds of the night when out within it. Those very much add to the serenity of the night sky for me.

In part due to the benefit of auditory situational awareness, sure. But trying to i.d. what's out there with me is fun too.


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#23 Rollo

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Posted 19 June 2021 - 07:55 AM

I never observe alone at a dark site.    I always make sure other people are there with me,,, a club site or just friends that want to go with me. The only time I observe alone is at home in my own back yard.   waytogo.gif   


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#24 jcj380

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Posted 19 June 2021 - 08:04 AM

I prefer to observe alone and Izar makes excellent points.  Familiarity helps a lot, if for nothing more than not worrying about falling into a ditch or something.

 

Had to chuckle about the spotlight.  I was recently at a dark site in Wisconsin when something *big* came thrashing through the brush next to my observing site.  I lit that place up with 1000 lumens as fast as I could.  Probably just a deer (had one sniffing around my scope on another trip), but I admit it was a "Holy Carp!" moment. 

 

Setting up with your back to your vehicle can eliminate being startled by an animal "sneaking" up behind you and it might help to try a campsite or something with other people around, but not too close.  It's ok to be there, so no worries about trespassing and if you should (unlikely) need help, somebody else is not too far away.

 

Addendum:  It took me awhile, but I've learned from experience that I feel most comfortable observing someplace where I can see all around me - either a cleared field or a hilltop, etc.  Some dark sites I've used  have old, abandoned farm buildings and those can be creepy too.  My mind says, "Fuh", but instinct tells me something else.  wink.gif


Edited by jcj380, 19 June 2021 - 08:21 AM.

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#25 Allan Wade

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Posted 19 June 2021 - 08:24 AM

My favourite, most relaxing observing happens when I am as far from civilisation as possible. But that's something to work up to with experience. You definitely need to hook up with some other like minded people who can take you to a site that you are comfortable to observe from. That's where astro clubs are so good. Ironically, some of my other favourite astronomy happens at star parties where there are hundreds of people everywhere. So I would keep an eye out for some star party events as well.


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