For much of our history, humans have had a fraught relationship with the hours between sunset and sunrise. We have a pattern of hiding from the nighttime - attempting to erase the night by transforming it into day.
My own experiences have convinced me that we should embrace exploring the nighttime world. As a child this exploration initially felt uncomfortable - but soon, uneasiness fell by the wayside as my time in the darkness began to change the way I thought about the world. In grand events like seeing the milky way in its full glory to small moments watching fireflies, I formed meaningful new connections to the world around me.
We can’t always predict which experiences will be most impactful in our lives. But we can say with certainty that lack of access to new experiences and ideas is detrimental to our growth and development.
Thompson Island Outward Bound’s Connections programs and outdoor expeditions exist to share new experiences and opportunities for growth with students from underserved Boston neighborhoods. As part of these programs, students come to our island to practice field science, go climbing and kayaking, and sometimes even explore the island on night hikes.
Although nighttime explorations are just a small piece of what students can experience on Thompson Island, we know for many students they make a lasting impression:
“I enjoyed the most when we were on a late night stroll and looking at the skyline of the city of Boston. XOXO” - Evangilina”
“Thank you for everything in the past two days. Thank you for showing me the sunset, detritus, and the beach. My favorite part about this program is watching the sunset because Boston looks so beautiful at night.” - Andya
“Staying the night here was really cool - to stay on an island. Sincerely” – Chrystal
In these quotes, I hear the excitement that comes from seeing the world at night from a new point of view. More importantly, I see curious minds ready for new experiences and eager to grow. I’m also confronted by the reality that for many students in Boston, opportunity gaps stand between under-resourced communities and learning opportunities - even those as seemingly insignificant as viewing their city from across the water at night.
We believe that all young people deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential. It’s what drives our programs and unites our network of partners.
Alongside Thompson Island Outward Bound’s Connections programs for middle schoolers, Boston Harbor Now’s Harbor Bound field trips and Harbor Discovery Camps makes sure that high-schoolers and youth participating in YMCA and Boys and Girls Club programs have free access to learning opportunities in the Boston Harbor Islands. Their Night Sky on Peddocks event (coming up this Friday and offered in partnership with the National Park Service) even gives families a chance to camp under the stars and learn about the night sky together at a low cost.
By sharing access to the Boston Harbor Islands, nights spent surrounded by nature, and forays into field science, we know we can offer students new avenues to connect with the world around them. Because for a child, even something as simple as journeying out on a night hike might be enough to change their perspective of what is possible. Perhaps Rachel Lyman Field says it best:
“If once you have slept on an island
You'll never be quite the same;
You may look as you looked the day before
And go by the same old name,
You may bustle about in street and shop
You may sit at home and sew,
But you'll see blue water and wheeling gulls
Wherever your feet may go.
You may chat with the neighbors of this and that
And close to your fire keep,
But you'll hear ship whistle and lighthouse bell
And tides beat through your sleep.
Oh! you won't know why and you can't say how
Such a change upon you came,
But once you have slept on an island,
You'll never be quite the same.”