Friday, November 1, 2019

Outdoor Object Lesson 105: On Firehawks

Key Verse

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9 WEB


Australia, the Land Down Under, has many unique and unusual animals. Some are scary, some are cute, and some are just odd. Firehawks might fall into the last category. Wildfires are common in Australia’s grasslands. They are often started by lighting and sometimes by humans. But some birds have come-to-light recently that also contribute to the spread of wildfire. Firehawk is a colloquial term referring to birds that deliberately spread fire. 

There are three known species that practice this odd behavior.  The black kite (Milvus migrans), whistling kite (Haliastur sphenurus), and the brown falcon (Falco berigora) have all been reported to spread fire purposely. These birds make their home in the open grasslands. They prey on small mammals, lizards, insects and other small animals. They have learned that as wildfires spread, the small animals flee the flames in great numbers. So, they perch near the edge of the fire and let the feast come to them. It's easy hunting.

But what if that does not provide enough food? These clever birds have learned that they can speed up the fire by picking up burning or smoldering sticks and drop them a half mile away to start a new fire. This will cause more small animals to flee straight into the talons of the firehawks!1,2 These birds are amazing and cleaver hunters, but their actions remind me of some people I have met. Maybe you know they type of person I am thinking of. They enjoy spreading gossip and discord among others that works like a flame spreading a destructive wildfire. They think its funny when they hurt or offend others. These individuals think its fun to start arguments or cause problems. They like to be annoying or insult people for pleasure. They are social firehawks! 

These people often spread discord and cause problems because they are hurting on the inside. But how do you deal with someone like that? The bible has a lot to say on this topic. “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him,” Titus 3:10 ESV. This is good advice. Try to discourage such a person from continuing in their ways. If they do not listen, it is best to avoid them. They are not your friend because they do not have your best interests in mind. 

Sadly, firehawks will always be around. Proverbs 26:20 offers another piece of advice, “Fire goes out without wood, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops.” NLT. You cannot always control firehawks or make them go away. But you can help stop the spread of their fire by not participating in their negative comments or gossip. The best thing you can do is pray for them and treat them with kindness no matter how they treat you.


How does it make you feel when someone hurts your feelings or gossips about you?

Why does the Bible advise us to avoid social firehawks? (read Titus 3:10 again)

Do you think people like that can change? Why or why not?

Is it our job as Christians to try and change or “convert” such people to the love of Christ? If so how?

Have you ever acted like a social firehawk? If so, what are going to do to change that?


1. Michael Greshko. “Why These Birds Carry Flames In Their Beaks,” January 8, 2018. National Geographic online, accessed from

2. Mark Bonta, Robert Gosford, Dick Eussen, Nathan Ferguson, Erana Loveless, and Maxwell Witwer "Intentional Fire-Spreading by “Firehawk” Raptors in Northern Australia," Journal of Ethnobiology 37(4), 700-718, (1 December 2017).

Written by David F. Garner
Photo credit: pen_ash via
Pictured above: brown falcon

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Glass Age - How Glass Invented Our Modern World

Glass is a beautiful and useful substance. It occurs naturally in the form of obsidian, tektites and other forms. It has been used by humans for thousands of years as tools and ornaments. It was well known in the ancient world and was highly prized because of its beauty and rarity. The Bible contains several references to glass such as, “Gold and glass cannot equal wisdom,” Job 28:17. While it has been known and used for millennia, it was generally only the wealthy that could afford it. Its usefulness was mostly aesthetic. During the Stone, Bronze, and Iron ages glass was a novelty.

So many new forms of technology have been developed in the last century alone we have multiple “age” names to describe it including atomic age, space age, computer age, information age, etc. While these names are descriptive of very important technologies and advancements, one substance has arguably made them all possible. Its use covers a much larger span of recent history and almost single-handedly made the scientific revolution possible over the past 500 years. What is this magical substance? Glass of course.

Glass held an important place in Medieval Europe. Stained glass was central to European Catholic life from the 13-16 century as a key part of the cathedral, the center of society. It was a means of educating the illiterate masses through stained glass mosaics. Mirrors also played a key role in European aristocratic life enabling people, especially women, to spend hours a day perfecting their appearance. Mirrors also seem to have played a significant role in spiritual matters.1 In fact, after Johannes Gutenberg lost his revolutionary printing press to debt collectors, he turned to making mirrors sold to pilgrims for use in spiritual rituals. Because of its place in European society, it is understandable that the Glass Age begins there.

The Glass Age could be considered to start with the invention of man-made colorless glass around 1430.2 Although glassmaking had been around for much longer, the ability to reliably make colorless glass that's highly transparent is what has led to so many technical and scientific breakthroughs. Around the same time as the perfection of colorless glass, the art of blown glass grew in earnest in Venice, Italy. Blown glass had been around since about 1 AD, but in Venice, several significant breakthroughs took place in a short time.

In 1271 the glassmaker’s guild was formed. In 1291, officials passed a law that required all glassmakers and glass artisans to move to the island of Murano. It also forbade them to leave or any foreign glassmakers to make or sell glass in Venice. This concentration of highly skilled craftsman led to Murano becoming the world leader in glass making and likely contributed to the major advancements in glass technology. Around 1430 a skilled glassmaker named Angelo Barovier invented a process for making extremely transparent glass.3 It was known as cristillo, and this see-through glass led to the development of many technologies.4

Perhaps the most important glass tool of the Glass Age is the lens. The invention of transparent glass enabled better lenses to be manufactured for many applications. Eyeglasses were invented and became common in the 13-14th centuries, but these used lenses made of quartz. Glass proved to be a superior material for making precise glasses that suited the wearers needs.5 Alongside the invention of the printing press, eyeglasses were helpful in the spread of ideas through reading because about 75% of adults requires vision correction. Reading was a major cornerstone of the renaissance and the scientific revolution. More importantly, the lens changed science and technology directly. It didn't take long before it made its way into many scientific tools to improve them. Some include the telescope for astronomy and navigation, the microscope for biology, and the magnetic compass for navigation and cartography.

In 1632 Galileo published his finding confirming the sun was the center of the solar system thanks to the telescope he perfected. In 1665 Robert Hooke first described and named the cell of living organisms after many years of observations with a microscope. The lens eventually led to the invention of the camera which enabled documentation in perfect form. It led to a revolution in science, art, entertainment, education, history, and communication and is a central technology of the Information Age (20th - 21st century).

In 1514 Johannes Werner suggested the cross-staff, an instrument for measuring the position of celestial bodies, be used for sea navigation. It was widely adopted shortly after and played a key role in the Age of Discovery (15th – 17th century). The user was required to look directly at the sun in order to calculate its angle to help determine the ships position. Repeatedly looking directly at the sun was painful and so navigators began fixing smoked glass lenses on their cross-staff to reduce the brightness of the sun.6

Colorless glass improved navigation in other ways. The basic navigation compass had been used in primitive forms for millennia. Colorless glass enabled more sensitive and accurate forms to be protected inside wood boxes and brass bezels. One example is the dry compass which could be used in swaying, rocking ships. Glass also allowed the needle to be magnified. The compass was also adapted for surveying and cartography. The compass was a key part of the theodolite invented in 1571 by Joshua Habermel which is still a part of land surveying today.7 Later an optical scope was added to improve visual range.

The surveyor’s compass, also known as the circumferentor, was another adaptation of the basic navigation compass that was central to surveying and cartography for centuries. It was eventually replaced by the more portable prismatic compass in the 19th century. The accuracy of the navigation compass was greatly improved with the invention of the liquid compass in 1690 which is nearly universal today.8

Glass prisms and lenses were incorporated into other navigation tools increasing their accuracy and ease of use. The sextant was invited in 1731 replacing the marine astrolabe and cross-staff. This major innovation allowed navigators to sight the nighttime celestial bodies and acquire their location even when the sun was not shining—a major advantage. These advancements, in turn, improved navigation accuracy reducing travel time thereby increasing trade and the spread of ideas.9

Another key area glass changed was timekeeping. The hourglass made timekeeping easier and more precise. The exact origins of the hourglass aren't clear, but it's generally accepted that it was widely adopted in Europe by the end of the High Middle Ages (around 1500 A.D.). The hourglass was a popular choice for sailors who used it to mark the passage of time, which allowed them to determine their longitude (location east to west). The hourglass was preferred over earlier water clocks because their sand was unaffected by the rocking motion of a ship. They were used onshore to measure time for church services, cooking and work tasks. Eventually, mechanical clocks supplanted the hourglass, though it wasn't until the 18th century that a suitable marine replacement was found. These clocks required a clear glass face to protect their delicate insides.

The window is another great example of how colorless glass improved the modern age. Of course, glass windows have been around since the time of the Romans. The true importance of clear glass windows was not realized until the industrial revolution in the mid-19th century. The see-through window enabled high-speed mechanized transportation in boats, trains, cars, and planes in this era.

Perhaps the most influential role of glass in the past 500 years is in the area of chemistry. Chemistry’s impact in all areas of life hardly needs mention. Most all the advancements of chemistry would likely have been impossible without glass in the lab. It is not just the transparency of glass that was important to chemistry. More critical is the inert property of glass which enables it to be in contact with nearly any chemical and not react. This allowed chemicals to be isolated and studied. Robert Boyle (1627-91) is known widely as the father of chemistry. Boyle used a large glass sphere to create a vacuum chamber. He observed that when he placed a burning candle inside and removed the air, the candle went out. This undermined the antient idea that the four elements, air, water, fire, and earth combined in various ways to make up every substance. Boyle proposed a different definition for an element which we still use today and thus invented modern chemistry—all thanks to that glass vacuum chamber.10, 11

The thermometer was invented by Robert Fludd in 1638. It consisted of a long glass tube with a bulb at one end filled with a liquid such as water, alcohol or mercury. This instrument was important to discoveries in the fields of chemistry, medicine, meteorology, and many other disciplines. Although most modern thermometers no longer use glass, their glass ancestors contributed much to our understanding of the natural world.

Better light sources improved night-time activities and extended the usable hours in a day. Metal and glass lanterns became common in the 18th century.12 Advances in fuel types helped improve their brightness and reliability in the 19th century. Coal gas lanterns helped to make cities night-time friendly. Glass panes protected the flame from wind. The Fresnel lens was patented in 1822 and made lighthouses much brighter which meant ships could navigate coastal waters more safely.13 The handheld lantern with its glass globe or lenses was critical to the railroad which began running at night in 1848. Fresnel lenses were common in railroad signal lanterns. The handheld lantern also lit many homes until the electric light fully replaced it in the mid-20th century. Handheld lanterns are still an important tool for camping today. The electric light bulb was invented by Thomas Edison in 1879. In fact, Edison blew his own glass bulbs for his experimentation.

Glass bottles and jars revolutionized food, beverage, and medicine storage and transportation in the 19th century. Canning was invented by a French chef in 1806. However, their seals frequently failed. The canning jar was perfected by John Landis Mason in 1858. Several companies were producing canning jars by the late 1800s which significantly improved food storage commercially and at home. Bottle making technology experienced many improvements also. Glass bottles were in such high demand by the end of the century that the first fully automatic glass forming machine was invented to make bottles. Work began on this revolutionary machine in 1898 by Michael Owens. It was completed in 1903 and could make more bottles in one hour than an expert glassworker could make in a day. Before long many types of glass products were made by machine instead of people.14

Many of the important developments in glass technology in the past 170 years have been made by the Corning Glassware company. One of their important developments was borosilicate glass which was patented as Nonex. It was one of the first heat-resistant glasses available and was adopted nationally for railroad signal lights in 1908 improving railroad safety. Further research led to the development of Pyrex in 1915 which was widely used in cookware and many other applications. Corning is responsible for inventing many modern glass technologies which are central to the Information Age including fiber optic cables which transmit computer signals at the speed of light, and Gorilla glass which is on the surface of most smartphones, tablets, handheld GPS devices, and other electronic gadgets.15

Glass is more important now than ever before. It is the single most important substance in our modern world. It enables rapid transportation in the form of shatter-resistant windshields. It allows near-instantaneous communication and access to near-limitless knowledge thanks to computer and televisions screens. It is on the face of every touch-enabled smartphone like the one that’s probably in your pocket or hand right now. Glass is also a key component of many computer chips. Glass wafers are used in many computing applications in science and research. Glass has had more impact on modern society than just about any other material. And that is why it is fair to say that we live in the Glass Age.

Written by David F. Garner
Photo Credit: sabinevanerp via

Friday, August 9, 2019

Compatibility Of Faith And Environmentalism

Do faith and environmentalism go together? I was raised in a conservative Christian church in the Bible Belt. After a brief crisis of faith in my early twenties, I had a conversion experience and adopted my childhood faith as my own. While I share many beliefs with my fellow Christians in the Bible Belt, there is one area that I frequently encounter resistance—environmental conservation. You see I am a passionate defender of conservation and preservation efforts of all forms. When I bring this topic up to other people of faith, I often encounter mild interest and then the subject changes. If I push the issue, it often becomes a one-sided conversation, I'm talking, and they are tuning me out.

So, am I the only person of faith who also has a strong conservation ethic? Can faith and a strong conservation ethic go together or are they fundamentally antithetical? This is a big question. I think the most correct answer is, it depends. Let's look at how some of the biggest religions in the world view the natural world and humanity’s responsibility towards it.

A fantastic article titled How Religions Are Involved In Environmental Protection by the United Nations Environment Programme provides a good summary of how many of the world’s major religion view the environment.1 Lets consider four of the biggest. Christianity - In the Holy Bible there are approximately 100 verses that talk about caring for the environment. The principle of stewardship is strong throughout highlighting that the God of the Bible is the ultimate owner of everything, and Christians are simply managers. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein" Psalm 24:1, King James Version. The Holy Bible promises strong consequences for anyone who does not care for the earth. "...and your wrath came, as did the time for the dead to be judged, ...and to destroy those who destroy the earth” Revelation 11:18, World English Bible.

Judaism - This faith shares similarities with Christianity in its view of humans as God's stewards. “The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land belongs to Me, for you are strangers and [temporary] residents with Me” Leviticus 25:23, Judaica Press Tanach. Jewish tradition has a strong legal and ethical obligation to care for the natural world. There are multiple laws and commands in Jewish scripture dealing with the proper use of land and resources. Notable is the law requiring a sabbatical for the land from farming every seven years (Leviticus 25:1-7).

Islam - The Quran, has quite a bit to say about care of the environment. It implies that followers of Allah are tenants or stewards, “Then We appointed you viceroys in the earth after them, that We might see how ye behave” Quran 10:14, Pickthall Translation. There are several prohibitions against taking advantage of the natural world such as this, “Do no mischief on the earth, after it hath been set in order” Quran 7:56, Yusuf Ali Translation. The Quran also stresses the interconnectedness of all lifeforms, “There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but (forms part of) communities like you” Quran 6:38, Yusuf Ali Translation. The Quran contains verses on the preservation of water and the benefits of gardening. It also focuses on helping the poor and less fortunate. Climate change and pollution affect the poor most harshly, so the Quran offers a good moral framework for living a green, eco-friendly life.

Hinduism - Of the four biggest religions in the world, Hinduism may have the greatest emphasis on protecting nature. Its holy texts are filled with many references of divinity related to nature, such as rivers, mountains, trees, animals, and the earth. To protect them, Hinduism encourages environmental protection. “Ether, air, fire, water, earth, planets, all creatures, directions, trees and plants, rivers and seas, they are all organs of God’s body. Remembering this a devotee respects all species” Srimad Bhagavatam (2.2.41). “What is the good way? It is the path that reflects on how it may avoid killing any living creature.” Kural (324). “There is an inseparable bond between man and nature. For man, there cannot be an existence removed from nature” Amma, 2011.

We must keep in mind that while many religions have sacred writings, not all sects within that religion interpret their writings in the same way. In my research, it seems that leaders from the four major religions I looked at do believe their sacred writings not only encourage conservation on some level but require it.1 Most agree that humans have some level of responsibility to their God to be proper stewards of the natural resources of the earth. To what extent this is prioritized varies widely.

An interesting case study for this topic is John Muir, the premier conservation saint and founder of the Sierra Club. He was raised by a conservative Christian father who was a minister. Daniel Muir portrayed a harsh and exacting God to his children. Additionally, he viewed nature as there simply to serve man's interests.2 It would be understandable if John had disposed of the entirety of his father's faith and religion as he most certainly did with his attitude toward nature. John came to have a passion for nature akin to that of a religion. But surprisingly, he did not forsake his childhood faith in God. John did not retain the fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible or religious traditions of his father. But any reader of John Muir's writings cannot miss the abundant religious language and references to God.

It has been proposed that this practice was simply to increase appeal to his 19th-century audience which was predominantly Christian. But the sheer amount of references to finding God in nature seem to dispel this idea. Muir's writings seem to convey a reverence for the Creator God whom he found in nature. Additionally, it seems his faith informed his approach to nature conservation. It was precisely because Muir found a connection to God in nature that he held it in such high esteem. One of the many biographers of John Muir, Cherry Good, makes this point well. "[Muir] preferred to worship outdoors, where he could see God's hand in the beauty of nature, rather than within the four walls of a church." She also points out that an acquaintance of John's recalled, "Though ardently devoted to science, as well as the study of nature, yet the agnostic tendencies that had their beginning about that time found no sympathy with him. With him there was no dark chilly reasoning that chance and the survival of the fittest accounted for all things."3 For Muir then, faith and conservation were not at odds. Instead, they fit together naturally.

What we can determine is that faith and environmental conservation are not only mutual but compatible. People of faith can look to their faith to find meaning and motivation for caring for the earth. Additionally, we can glean that the framework for a conservation ethic already exists in many religions. We do not have to start from scratch in order to build a case for living greener for people of faith. Instead, we simply must find the language and ethic that already exists within a faith and bring that to their attention. The Interfaith Alliance stresses the importance of conservation to people of all faiths, "This issue is extremely important to people of faith and is at the center of debate on what are the next steps to improve our planet for the future."4

Faith is not necessary to having and developing a conservation ethic. There are plenty of people who live very environmentally conscious lives and do not claim any faith. Nature is the domain of all people, and anyone can see the value of preserving and protecting it. Faith can enhance this value for some people. It can also reduce the value placed on conservation depending on the specific faith tradition. According to one study, conservative Protestant faiths tended to value conservation less than average whereas Catholics tended to place a higher value than average.6 I believe individual family values also play an important role. In my own case, although my faith tradition placed little emphasis on conservation, my parents instilled a strong conservation ethos in me. I still turn off the lights when I leave a room and avoid letting the water faucet run, more because my mom instilled this habit in me growing up than because I desire to reduce waste.

Evidently, and not too surprisingly, your faith tradition will strongly impact how you view environmental conservation efforts. A Christian faith will tend to focus on how conservation benefits the welfare of humans emphasizing an anthropocentric view.7 Whereas a Buddhist may tend to focus on the sanctity of all lifeforms emphasizing a biocentric view.5 Both value conservation efforts but for slightly different reasons. Faith background may also heavily impact how persons of varying faiths think conservation efforts are best carried out and which areas should receive the most attention. Another interesting trend is that those who are more devoted to their faith tend to take its stewardship requirements more seriously and thus have an increased concern for the environment.5 Faith and conservation do go together. How your faith tradition emphasizes and implements conservation depends on many factors. What is clear is that people of faith have a stake in conserving the earth as do all people groups.

If you are a person of faith, go back to your sacred writings, to your traditions and rediscover the conservation principles held there. Remind yourself of your duty to God, to your fellow living creatures. Share these with fellow believers as you discuss and encourage them to adopt greener practices and live more eco-conscious. If you are not a person of faith, but want to begin a discussion about environmental conservation with a person of faith, investigate what their faith teaches about this topic. Use this information in your approach. You may disagree on other points, but environmental conservation is likely a topic you can both come to have in common. Perhaps you already have this in common but do not realize it because you use different language and terms to describe it. Seek to understand one another. There is hope for the future. We can find hope in our faith, and in each other as we work together to care for the earth.


1 United Nations, "How religions are involved in environmental protection," United Nations Environment Programme (n.d.), accessed April 11, 2019 from

2. Stoll, Mark R. "God and John Muir: A Psychological Interpretation of John Muir's Life and Religion," Sierra Club online (1993), accessed April 11, 2019 from

3. Good, Cherry. On the Trail of John Muir, (Edinburgh: Luath Press, 2001): 35. Print.

4. Interfaith Alliance. "Faith, Religion and the Environment," Interfaith Alliance online (MAY 28, 2006), accessed April 11, 2019 from

5 Rust, Niki. "Religion can make us more environmentally friendly - or not," BBC online (7 February 2017), accessed April 11, 2019 from

6. Greeley, Andrew. "Religion and Attitudes toward the Environment." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 32, no. 1 (1993): 19-28. doi:10.2307/1386911.

7 Hope, Aimie L.B., and Christopher R. Jones. “The Impact of Religious Faith on Attitudes to Environmental Issues and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Technologies: A Mixed Methods Study.” Technology in Society 38 (2014): 48–59.

By David F. Garner Sierra Club member since 2008

Friday, August 2, 2019

Activity: Teeth, Teeth!

Activity Type:
Icebreaker, Amusement, Name Game,

5-10 minutes.

Use this game to break the ice in a new group to help people loosen up a bit. You can also use it to help the group get familiar with the names of everyone in the group.  Of course you can always just use this game for a bit of fun and amusement.

You and your teeth.

Organize your group into a cirlce either sitting or standing. If you have a very large group you can make smaller circles of 4-10 people but it can be fun with a very large group up to about 25 people. Pick your theme for the game such as vegetables, animals, fruit, etc. or have them say the name of the player next to them to make this a name game. Have each person chose their item. The goal of the game is to go around the circle and each player says their item twice without showing their teeth by keeping their lips over their teeth.  For example, player 1 says, "Hippo, Hippo" without showing their teeth, then the player to their right says their item, "Lion, lion" and this continues around the cirlce. If another player catches someone showing their teeth, they must shout, "teeth, teeth" and wave their arms at the offending player, but they must not show their own teeth in the process.

When one player is caught showing their teeth they can be eliminated until there is a winner. You can also play for points with some taken away for each offence. The player with the highest points at the end wins. Alternatively, you can time the group and when there is an offense the timer must start over.

To take this game to the next level, instead of going around the circle, have each player chose someone across the circle from them to pass off to. Instead of saying a vegetable or fruit, the player will say the name of the player they want to go next. That player can then chose anyone they want to go next and say their name twice. But if anyone shows teeth they loose.  To make this game even more challenging, have each player hold their tongue or stand on one leg or do some other challenge.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Now All The Woods Are Sleeping

Now all the woods are sleeping,
And night and stillness creeping
O’er city, man, and beast;
But thou, my heart, awake thee,
To pray'r awhile betake thee,
And praise thy Maker ere thou rest.
O sun! where art thou vanished?
The night thy light hath banished--
The ancient foe, the night;
God then for now appeareth
Another Sun, and cheereth
My heart--'tis Jesus Christ, my Light!
The last faint beam is going,
The golden stars are glowing
In yonder dark-blue deep;
Such is the glory given,
When called of God to heaven,
On earth no more we pine and weep.
To rest the body hasteth,
Itself of clothes divesteth,
Type of mortality!
I'll put it off, and o'er me
Christ throw the robe of glory,
And blissful immortality!
Head, hands, and feet so tired
Are glad the day's expired,
That work comes to an end;
My heart, be filled with gladness
That God from all earth's sadness,
And from sin's toil relief will send.
Ye aching limbs! now rest you,
For toil hath sore oppressed you,
Lie down, my weary head;
A sleep shall once o'ertake you
From which earth ne'er shall wake you,
Within a cold and narrow bed.
Mine eyes scarce ope are keeping,
A moment, I'll be sleeping,
Soul, body,--fare ye well!
In grace Thy care then make them
May evil ne'er o'ertake them,
Thou Eye and Ward of Israel.
O Jesus, be my Cover!
And both Thy wings spread over
Thy child, and shield Thou me!
Though Satan would devour me,
Let angels ever o'er me
Sing, "This child shall uninjured be!"

My loved ones, rest securely,--
From every evil surely
Our God will guard your heads;
And happy slumbers send you,
And bid His hosts attend you,
And golden-armed watch o'er your beds.

By Paul Gerhardt; Translator: Catherine Winkworth

Photo credit: RitaE via 

Friday, July 19, 2019

A History Of Campers Love-Hate Relationship With Electronics

Since William H. H. Murray, the father of modern camping, first set off the camping movement in 1869, campers have been discussing, debating, and arguing over what gear to take. Perhaps no category of gear embroils more passion than that of electronics. By electronics I mean electrically powered gadgets such as music/media devices, games, cameras, as well as electronic navigation and communication tools. While electronic gadgets were not available in portable, wireless forms in the early days of the camping movement, it didn’t take long for that to change. 

‘Edison’s music box’ the phonograph, was invented in 1877 by Thomas Edison. But being delicate, expensive, and bulky they were not frequently taken camping prior to the 20th century expect perhaps by the wealthy. With the advent of the automobile, suddenly campers could more easily carry heavy luxury items like a music player into the outdoors. And with their arrival on the camping scene came the never-ending debate about whether electronics belong in the campground or if they run antithetical to the spirit of ‘roughing it’ that lies at the center of camping out. 

Probably the very first mention of an artificial music player and the outdoors in the same quote came from William HH Murray himself. Ironically, it had nothing to do the debate that would later ensue over whether they belong on a camping trip. Murray instead compares camping sounds to a phonograph. "Not only is [camping] a word for the eye, but it is equally a word for the ear. For in it are the sighing of zephyrs, the soft intoning of slow-moving night winds, the roaring of strong gales, the moaning of tempests, and the sobbings of storms among the wet trees. The loon's call, the splash of leaping fish, the panther's cry, the pitiful summons of the lost hound, the slashing of deer wading among the lily pads, and the soft dripping of odorous gums falling gently on the pine stems, listening to which in silence and sweet content, we, who were lying under the fragrant trees, like happy and weary children, have fallen gently asleep, — all these sounds live in the word as music lives forever in the air of heaven, being a part of it. And in it too are human voices, songs, laughter, and all the happy noises of merriment and frolic. No other phonograph is like to it."1

Radio’s also quickly found their way into the campground as they became small and portable enough to fit into a car.2 Phonographs and radios brought loud, artificial music and entertainment into wild places. Many found it enjoyable while others thought it annoying or irreverent. Those who found it annoying often did so because it could easily be played all night long. Before electronic music players, a person had to provide live music. Eventually, they grew tired of playing or went to bed. However, a phonograph or radio could be played continuously. Here are some of the earliest examples from both sides of the debate. 

An article in American Motorist in 1922 lauded the conveniences and enjoyment potential of a mobile car radio for camping. Interestingly, the author discouraged consumers from purchasing a speaker for their system in favor of headphones. In those days radio systems were so large they were sold in individual pieces. One of his biggest arguments against speakers for a camping radio set is that it is “not designed to entertain the universe.” He argued headphones were more desirable to speakers when camping. He goes on to point out that headphones usually give a better personal listening experience “with the least amount of effort and with the messages as distinct as possible.” He concludes that “the advantages of the head phones are, therefore, apparent....”3 In contrast to this article, one ad in a different magazine claimed, “Nobody wants to wear head phones during hot, stuffy weather. A small efficient Loud Speaker ruggedly built will be welcome in any camp outfit. The AUDIOPHONE JR. is just the thing.”4b

A different 1923 ad, for a compact radio antenna called the Warren Radio Loop, began with the bold headline, "Make your set portable for camping and vacation." This was ideal in a time when many radio antennas were dozens of feet long and required large rigging to set up. It promised continued enjoyment of radio programs wherever you camped or vacationed. It neglected to inform consumers of the sparse coverage of radio signal in rural places or that continued enjoyment might annoy others.4 The July 1923 issue of Popular Radio included instructions on how to install a radio and antenna unit in a canoe. One picture shows a massive eight-foot spiral antenna array mounted on a canoe. The article contended that a radio, despite the necessity of a large antenna array would, “be suitable for a canoe trip.”4a One Eveready Battery ad in 1924 took the concept of portable radio one step further when it emphasized their radio batteries light-weight enough "to take camping or on hikes"5 (emphasis added).

Numerous articles encouraged people to take a radio or music player with them outdoors in the early days of car camping. One author advised in a 1922 article, “On an auto tour, a camping trip, or merely a day’s picnic this summer, a wireless receiver will bring you endless entertainment.”5a The large volume of ads, how-to guides, and articles discussing the use of radios while camping or vacationing indicates it was highly popular in this era. Many campers enthusiastically embraced the technology in order to stay connected and be entertained. Few seem to have imagined that anyone might be annoyed by this mass noise intrusion. 

One of the earliest records of a camper complaining about another camper's electronics was written by Charles E.S. Wood in his published diary from 1928. He observed during his 9-month auto camping tour in 1928 that phonographs were "the noise and games of the city" and did not belong in "quiet nature."6 Early electronics taken camping were primarily for entertainment purposes. It seems from my research that most campers had no qualms about taking music and electronic forms of entertainment camping. Many saw it as the height of technological achievement that added to their camping trip, not detracted from it. However, when some played their music without thought for others during sleep hours it annoyed some as seen in the quotes above.

In later decades as more portable and greater varieties of electronic gadgets came on the market, a sentiment would grow against their presence in the campground. Purists would argue that the goal of camping was to live primitively, away from modern convenience and technology. After all, why are you taking the trouble to go camping if not to leave behind modern conveniences and urbanization for a short time? Of course, others would argue they wanted to enjoy modern entertainment while also enjoying the scenery and environment provided by camping.  

In 1954 The Handbook of Auto Camping advised taking a portable radio for entertainment especially during rainy weather. But the author also warned, “If you do take a battery radio with you, you will be popular in campgrounds only if you confine its playing to daytime, or to low volume.”6a In 1959, the Michigan Department of Conservation laid out rules to help conserve natural areas. They included normal rules such as speed limits and bans against destroying natural flora. They also made it illegal, “To use a loud speaker or public address system without a written permit….”6b This is an early example of regulation of noise in outdoor spaces that would eventually become ubiquitous.

One of the 20th Centuries most prolific writers of summer camp instruction manuals and how-to guides was Lloyd Mattson. With 31 books and multiple articles to his name about how to go camping and how to run a summer camp, he could be considered somewhat of an expert on the subject. He advised in 1970 that one of the goals of being in the wilderness is "to discover that life is possible apart from gadgets.”7 Although written over 50 years ago, perhaps there is some wisdom in this old advice.

In 1972 the U.S. Congress passed the Noise Pollution and Abatement Act. This is a bit surprising as there was not much organized effort in the public sphere to regulate noise. It was primarily passed to fund research on what levels of noise were harmful to workers in various industries and to the general public and to regulate these based on the research. It seems this Act brought noise regulation to the attention of other Federal agencies. In 1975 the U.S. Forest Service included a sign in its official lineup for campgrounds that established a quiet time. It read "Music Lovers Quiet 10 p.m. - 6 a.m.” Whether this is the first time a unified quiet time policy was established by the U.S. Forest Service is hard to tell. The history of campground regulations is not well chronicled. It seems unlikely based on the widespread availabilities of portable radios going back to the 1920's. What is certain is that most campgrounds eventually adopted a quiet time policy. Many adopted the same timeframe as the U.S. Forest Service as this is a reasonable window for sleeping.8

Some guidebooks have recommended taking certain electronics for practical reasons rather than entertainment. The Family Camping Guidebook (1975) advised its readers to take a transistor radio camping to stay apprised of foul weather.9 In another instruction book for campers, the author complained of losing sleep because of "some idiot listening to a transistor radio". His solution was to pack earplugs. This is perhaps good advice because no matter how many rules, signs, or guidebooks promote keeping music volume to reasonable levels and times of day, there will inevitably be some who ignore it.10 In 1985 a camping how-to guide titled Camping Basics showed a reasonable approach to electronics in the campground. In a packing list, the author includes "radio or cassette player" and immediately follows it up with, "but don't annoy other campers with it."11 In other words, bring it for your own personal entertainment if you want, but be cognizant of others trying to enjoy some peace and quiet. 

While guidebooks and administrators have tried to regulate misuse of music gadgets outdoors, manufacturers of portable electronic gadgets have continued to advertise to campers. Reminiscent of those radio component ads from the 1920's, Sony specifically marketed their Walkman Sport cassette player to campers in a 1988 ad in Spin magazine. It started off by bragging about the extreme places users had taken it. "Only the Walkman is built so rugged, auidophiles have been known to take it sailing to Cape Horn, bushwaking the Amazon, and climbing Mount Fuji." The ad also touted its rugged construction including being "splash-proof". 12 It seems for most campers; musical entertainment is a necessary luxury. Afterall, manufacturers wouldn’t continue to advertise to this demographic if it were not lucrative! It is also doubtful so many campers would risk damage to their sensitive equipment if they did not highly value having music in the great outdoors.

Campers have annoyed other campers as long as there have been electronic music players with speakers. Wireless, rugged speakers have amplified this problem of inconsiderate noise in the 21st century. Previously, loudspeakers were usually limited to the campground because of their bulk. But portable, powerful, wireless speakers have enabled people to blare music while on the move in the backcountry. A mountain biker shared her frustrating experience in which a peaceful ride through some remote single-track was tainted by another biker who passed her blasting a loud beat from a wireless speaker. As the offending biker passed, she yelled, “Have you ever heard of headphones?!”12a

Of course, music players have not been the only form of electronic gadgets to grace the backwoods. Electronic games have also been common in the campground as long as they have existed. Other portable gadgets to find their way into the campground and trail include communication devices and electronic navigation aids. CB and other two-way radios were perhaps the earliest forms of backcountry communication devices used by recreation campers. By the early 1970's there were so many electronic gadgets for camping one camping magazine had a regular column dedicated to the topic.13 When cellphones became available, they inevitably found their way outdoors. Electronic navigation aids include GPS devices, digital compasses and altimeters and others have become common in the 21st century. 

Communication devices and electronic navigation aids may seem indispensable. How could anyone argue against taking them camping? These devices do provide much utility but can also cause inconvenience and even harm if used improperly. A story was reported in 2001 about a hiker who called search and rescue on his cellphone from the backwoods of Olympic National Park in Washington State. The caller had been hiking and was now requesting a helicopter. When pressed for details about his situation, the caller revealed that he had no injuries and even knew exactly where he was. He was not out of food or in any immediate danger. Upon further questioning, he revealed he did not have time to hike back out in order to be at a scheduled meeting in Seattle. He wanted search and rescue to dispatch a helicopter to get him back in time. Needless to say, one was not dispatched, despite the caller's offer to pay all expenses incurred.14

In 2014, Trever Lee pled guilty to 5 misdemeanors for crimes committed in various National Parks. His crimes included climbing endangered trees, camping in areas where camping was banned, and having campfires where they were banned due to a high risk of forest fires. How did his crimes get discovered? He posted pictures of all these activities on his Instagram account and they were found by Park officials.15 Why did he commit these crimes? To increase the number of followers on his Instagram account. His is not an isolated incident. Many articles have reported major damage to remote, delicate areas in National Parks and other locations due to graffiti, forest fires and the increased traffic that resulted from trending posts. 

Someone visits a beautiful alpine lake and posts pictures or video to their social media account. The post gets thousands or hundreds of thousands of likes and views. Suddenly, thousands of people decide they want to visit the same site. The problem is, some places like alpine lakes, caves, and other delicate ecosystems can be destroyed if visited by too many people in a short time period. Social media sites like Instagram and YouTube have made previously unknown "secret" locations common public knowledge. It is possible to love a place to death. The drive to post unique and awesome content can cause people to do things they wouldn't otherwise do. People have died or been injured trying to get the perfect selfie. In fact, some have called it an epidemic. Between 2011 and 2017 at least 259 people reportedly died taking selfies.16

Electronic gadgets have their place in the backcountry. As more and more of our camping tools become electronic, it becomes increasingly impossible to leave all electronics at home. The debate over this topic is certainly not over and perhaps never will be. There are very valid reasons to take certain electronics outdoors. Navigation aids such as GPS and map devices are very helpful. But they cannot replace skills with an old school map and compass. Electronic devices can break or fail. In 2013 a woman died while hiking the Appalachian Trail. She was only 200 miles from completing her through-hike in Maine. One would think after hiking nearly 800 miles successfully, she would be quite competent with navigation. She accidentally left her GPS in the last hotel she stayed in. As a result, she got lost along the trail. Eventually, her remains were found after what was reported to be the biggest search and rescue effort in Maine's history. Surprisingly, a compass was found with her remains. Interviews with her friends and family revealed she did not know how to use it. This tragic end could have been avoided if she did not depend solely on her electronic navigation tools.17

Tim Smith, a registered Master Maine Guide and the founder of the Jack Mountain Bushcraft School summarized the problem of dependency on electronics this way. "One of the worst trends we’ve seen in the past 20 years is the proliferation of cell phones and technology in the backcountry. It gives people a false sense of security."18 We should not completely depend on our electronic gadgets in the backcountry. We need to have competency with traditional navigation tools and carry them. We need solid survival skills in case the unthinkable happens. Cellphones, satellite phones, radios, GPS devices, avalanche beacons, all these are extremely helpful tools that increase our safety in the backcountry. But they were never designed to replace traditional methods and tools. 

Music devices, digital readers, portable gaming units, cameras, with these devices it is more of a personal choice if you enjoy taking them camping. Some may feel they do not belong there. But I think it depends on what you are doing. When living on the trail for weeks or months such as during a long through-hike, or during a difficult activity like trail running, you may desire some modern entertainment to keep your spirits up. Also, it’s fun to capture your achievements with photos, GPS tracks, etc. The key is to not annoy other campers or users with it. Never do something illegal or dangerous because of your electronic devices either. If you are not a purist and do frequently take electronic gadgets camping, I challenge you to forego these occasionally. One of the goals of getting back to nature is to get away from modern technology and unplug. Whatever side of the debate you fall on, sometimes it's nice to watch and listen, uninterrupted, to the beauty of nature. No phonograph, or other electronic gadget is like it.

Learn more about this topic at these links:
At this link you can learn all about using electronics in the backcountry safely and ethically with Leave No Trace principals. Learn how to use a traditional print map and analog compass in this video series or this article.

Written by David F. Garner

Photo credit:
Top: Popular Science Monthly, June 1922, pg. 70, photographer unknown.
Middle: American Motorist, August 1922, pg. 9, photographer unknown.
Bottom: Edwin Levick, Popular Radio, July 1923, pg. 7.

1. William H.H. Murray, Cones for the Campfire (Boston: De Wolfe Fiske & Co., 1891): 96-97, Print.

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4b. The Bristol Company, “Audiophone Jr,” Popular Radio Vol IV No. 1 (July 1923): 35,

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6. Terence Young, Heading Out: A History Of American Camping, (Cornell University Press: Ithaca, 2017): 46, Ebook.

6a. George Stevens Wells, Iris Wells, The Handbook of Auto Camping and Motorist's Guide to Public Campgrounds, (Harper: New York, 1954): 59, Print.

6b. Michigan. Dept. of Conservation, “Conservation of Natural Resources,” Proceedings of Conservation Commission, Volume 39, (1959): 117, Print.

7. Lloyd D. Mattson, The Wilderness Way, (Board of Christian Education: Evanston, 1970): 16, Print.

8. United States Forest Service, “Forest Service poster and small metal sign catalog 1975,” February 1975, United States Forest Service, accessed July 18, 2019 from  

9. Jerome J. Knap, Alyson Knap, The family camping handbook: a complete guide to camping in North America, 1975, (Pagurian Press Ltd: Ontario,1975): 117, Print.

10. Andrew J. Carra, Camping: a complete guide to why, how, and where, (Stein and Day: New York, 1978): 31, Print. 

11. Wayne Armstrong, Camping Basics, (Prentice-Hall: Upper Saddle River, 1985): 35, Print. 

12. Sony, “Camping, sunbathing, or on safari: one Sony plays on,” Spin, Vol 4 No. 4 (July 1988): 77, Print. 

12a. Megan Michelson, “HOW TO UNPLUG: ETIQUETTE FOR ELECTRONICS IN THE OUTDOORS,” Outside online, (2015), accessed July 18, 2019 from

13. Henry Groskinsky, “Roughing It Soft,” Life Vol 71 No. 10, (September 3, 1971): 45, Ebook.  

14. James Gorman, “The Call in the Wild: Cell Phones Hit the Trail,” New York Times online, August 30, 2001, accessed June 17, 2019 from

15. Will Egensteiner, “Yosemite Instagrammer Pleads Guilty in Federal Court,” Outside online, Oct 29, 2014, accessed July, 18, 2019 from

16. Kathryn Miles, "Cause of Death: Selfie,” Outside online, Apr 16, 2019, accessed July 17, 2019 from

17. Lauren Abbate, “Hiker who died on Appalachian Trail didn’t know how to use compass,” Portland Press Herald online, May 26, 2016, accessed July 18, 2019 from

18. J.R. Sullivan, “Our Reliance on Technology Makes the Backcountry More Dangerous,” Outside online, Mar 16, 2016, accessed July 18, 2019 from