At the time of this writing, it is International Dark Sky Week for 2016.
Fortuitously, a past partner and I went to New Mexico this past weekend and enjoyed some truly dark sky.
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. These two areas do not always coincide.
These pockets of dark night 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. Instead of water, it is the growing circles of light steadily increasing.
The dark sky is 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 a past partner 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, to remote feeling and too concealing of the “dangers” that lurked. It was 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 little bit about 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 have a love affair with the night sky being unblemished will perhaps enjoy the narrative more.
An overall theme of the book, 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. The Milky Way was not seen 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. He is thoughtful and realistic. He realizes we can’t have 100% darkness. Nor is it always desirable. But he is being cautionary. That by embracing just the light at the expense of some dark places (and not being more thoughtful when we do light up a place), we are a losing an important 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 is 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.