Although the George Washington Birthplace National Monument is typically thought of as a historic and cultural resource, a threefold event this Sunday will highlight its natural features. Adding to the magical quality of the experience, “Consensus of the Senses” will be held after sunset, providing nighttime exploration that is a rarity for this site of the National Park Service.

During the event, families will have an opportunity to explore the way in which our faculties of taste, touch, smell, hearing and vision are heightened and transformed in the absence of daylight.

Ranger-led activities of sensory exploration begin at 7:30 p.m. and include information on how our senses convey information to us and even explain how lightning occurs. From 8:30 to 10 p.m., visitors will also be able to view the sky and its celestial bodies through the park’s telescope, which will be set up on the creek-side area of the grounds.

“We experience some things at night that we are not aware of during the daytime,” said Scott Hill, chief of visitors’ services. “We ask our guests to be still for a moment and talk about what they hear. Without the ambient daytime sounds, they experience a different auditory environment. And they also might become aware of smells that may not be present or detected in the daytime. And they’ll be seeing things through the telescope that aren’t visible to the naked eye.”

All guests will have a firsthand experience of using the telescope, and the presentation will highlight the summer constellations of the Northern Hemisphere as well as any special celestial features.

“The moon will be nearly full on Aug. 11 and our telescope is strong enough to see craters. It’s especially exciting to explore the moon and bodies in the heavens at the time of the 50th anniversary of the first moon walk,” said Hill.

In conjunction with the activities that will be guided by park rangers, the Night Explorer booklet of the park system’s Junior Ranger series will be available, and visitors ages 5-12 will earn a badge when they complete all the activities and experiments presented. Topics include: life cycle of a star, myths related to various constellations, different types of light emitted by the sun, and nocturnal animals that come to life when most people are going to bed.

“Today many people—kids and adults alike—don’t get out and appreciate nature, and it is rare to have an opportunity to explore outdoors at night,” said Hill. “This can be a bonding experience where family memories are made. And when adults experience nature with their children and grandchildren, they will be seeing things from a different perspective with a new kind of perception. I hope families will take the opportunity to experience this beautiful site at a magical time when they can explore it with different eyes and hear it through different ears!”

Nighttime exploration of George Washington’s Birthplace National Memorial can provide first-time visitors with an introduction to the site which offers a spectrum of daytime recreational and cultural activities on the land where our first president and his family lived during his earliest years.

Collette Caprara is a local writer and artist.

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