At the time of this writing, it is International Dark Sky Week for 2016.
Fortuitously, someone and I went to New Mexico this past weekend and enjoyed some truly dark sky.
There is something incredible about the night sky unblemished by any lights.
Looking up, seeing the Milky Way, and hearing nothing but the sounds of nature is a sure sign that if you are not in a Wilderness Area, you are for sure in a wild area. But, unfortunately, these two areas do not always coincide.
These pockets of dark nights are becoming more and more difficult to find.
Increasingly large metro areas, energy exploration, and well-used areas conjure up a scene of a rising tide on the beach. But, instead of water, it is the growing circles of light steadily increasing.
The dark sky is a wild and remote feeling. Perhaps something deep in our cultural DNA fears it. And it is why we always seem to want more light: For safety, for security, for a feeling of well-being.
I remember leading night hikes for an outdoor group I was active with quite a bit. It was hard to convince some of the hikers how a full moon is more than enough light to hike safely.
And someone tells the story of a cousin visiting her in Arizona. He refused to leave the perceived safety of the car. The dark night sky of northern Arizona was too alien, too remote feeling and too concealing the “dangers” lurked. The night sky was too far removed from his life near Cologne, Germany.
But with too much light, we lose something. Something we need in our lives.
Which is my usual, tangential and round-about way to bring up a book I recently read: The End of Night: Searching for Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light by Paul Bogard
It is a book that a bit about science. A bit of sociology. And culture, history, literature, and musings.
The book meanders and wanders. It jumps from point to point. There has no cohesive narrative.
And it is all wonderful.
The book reminded me a bit, like night hiking or being under the stars while outdoors: Conversation seems to jump around. And while there may be a goal in mind, most of the enjoyment is in the meandering itself.
Those who want a more solid and science-oriented book, or perhaps looking for a political diatribe against light pollution, will not enjoy this book.
Those with a more romantic streak and love affair with the night sky being unblemished will perhaps enjoy the narrative more.
An overall theme, such as there is one, is that the night sky is something to protect, cherish and embrace.
Much like the wild places, “If few people care about the darkness that remains, eventually that darkness will disappear.”
I was a bit sad when I went to Pawnee Grassland last year. The night sky I remembered so fondly was gone. I no longer saw the night sky above. Only the orange glow of flames from the fracking operations coloring the night sky.
On the other hand, the Nebraska Panhandle was so memorable because the night sky was so phenomenal.
The author understands very much and conveys as such how special an unblemished night sky can be. And what we lose when it is no longer that way.
But the author is not doom and gloom. On the contrary, he is thoughtful and realistic. He realizes we can’t have 100% darkness. Nor is it always desirable. But he is cautionary. By embracing just the light at the expense of some dark places (and not being more thoughtful when we do light up a site), we are losing an essential part of our history, culture, and possibly well-being.
We lose a sense of who we are in many ways.
We need the wild places to say wild as much as possible. And part of that wildness is a night sky. A night sky that protected as with any other resource in our wild places.
During International Dark Sky Week, plan to get out if you can. Go to the field on the edge of town and look at the stars. Get far into the backcountry if possible and sit outside your shelter watching the sky above. And if you felt something while out there, something you know you love, you just may enjoy The End of Night.
Want to hear more? A good interview with the author may be heard on the Living on Earth website.
UPDATE 2021 –
Sounds like an interesting book– it’ll be going on my list of ones to read- thanks for bringing up the important issue of dark skies.
Paul, thank you, thank you, thank you! Light pollution is an issue close to my heart. Like you, I grew up on the generally bright East coast. Unlike you, I was in one of the few pockets of darkness in the east- the Adirondacks.
I never fully appreciated the soul-draining effect of excessive nocturnal light until I moved here to Albuquerque, NM.
Ironically, in the generally darker West, I came to more fully appreciate the contrast between light and darkness.
Likewise in appreciating the contrast. Even just going up Boulder Canyon for a half hour drive makes a large contrast!
Your post inspired me! Check out my most recent one here:
Cool! Thx for sharing…