Saturday, October 24, 2015

We Seem to be a Culture of Adults Afraid of the Dark ...

I moved to the country over a decade ago. I had never lived in the country, and I discovered that the country is really, really dark at night. As a dyed in the wool city girl to that point, I wasn't sure I'd be able to get used to that. But my electric co-op has placed yard lights on the property of many of the houses in their service area. For a monthly fee, a property owner can pay to have it turned on. I decided to opt out of that 15 years ago because by my estimation, the position of this light pole I figured would light up the bedroom like a football stadium at night, and that seemed impractical. I have never regretted my decision to leave the light off.
Turns out there's a whole organization dedicated to light pollution called the International Dark Sky Organization, and the picture above is from the Blue Ridge Observatory and Star Park, not far from where I live. The photo credit is theirs, not mine, and you can find more information here:

The night sky is absolutely incredible I discovered. The depth and breadth of the stars is truly awesome. I've sat out at night and watched meteor showers, and seen many, many moons. I can even spot a few of the more familiar constellations. I'm not an afficiando mind you, but I do enjoy what I see, and sometimes it's nice to just enjoy things without turning it into a project or hobby.
Turns out there's an organization for these guys too, and no surprise is that light pollution contributes to their decline as well. Again, the photo credit is theirs, not mine, and here's the link:

The fireflies in the summer make everything look magical. The geology disappears, and all you see are sparkles -- the slope disappears but a wall of little lights appears; the fields are full of sweeps of little lights, and one has no real sense of solid ground. It's magical.
I had to look these babies up on a website called What's that Bug, the photo credit is again theirs, and the link here: I had lived here for a decade-and-a-half before I became aware of these creatures. I had always attributed the glow to fireflies, but went out one night when it was way too late in the season for them, and the driveway was lit up like a magic pathway, and with a flashlight, saw that they were these worms. So cool!

And glow worms are a real thing! They light the pathways, and again the effect is pure magic.The gravel driveway turns into a pathway of tiny lights illuminating a way to some delightful place. It's better than any man-made thing I have ever seen; better than fireworks, better than Disneyland, better, better, better.

If I leave for out of town, as a safety precaution I turn off every tiny light in the house, thinking that if burglars want in, they'll have to bring their own lighting. That seems safe to me. It's a real turn around in attitude and thinking. Instinctually, as a city girl, I initially thought I should leave lights on, but I've come to realize that the absolute darkness can be safe, too.

So I am quite bummed to discover that new people who live in a house above mine have opted to have their yard light turned on, and that it's so poorly positioned that it lights up my entire property like a football stadium at night. Yeah, I know, I'm exaggerating. Kind of. But gone is the incredible deepness of the night sky that I've enjoyed for a decade-and-a-half. Sometimes I would be outside to call the dog in, and all I could do is stop for a while and gaze upward in amazement. I'm not sure how it will affect the firefly and glow worm gazing. And I've been too depressed about it to determine whether there is any place left on my property where I can still star gaze. I'm afraid there's not.

But it leads me to the real issue of the absurdity of how we try to light the dark so that it's as bright as the day. The night has its own beauty and value, and so much is missed out on by minimizing its effect. I don't think I would have thought about it until living here because these days it's considered "normal" to light the dark. Now I can see such efforts as absurd, wasteful, and entirely abnormal. A waste of resources to be sure, but I can't help but think we're losing out on appreciating the beauty of the night, which is over half of our lives. We've somehow characterized the night as "bad," as something to be alleviated. And it seems that I read about the cost and difficulty in generating enough affordable electricity in every newsletter I receive from the electric co-op. Hey! Electric co-op! A little light goes a long way around here. It is not necessary to so overdo it! We squander our resources. We make it more and more difficult for the earth's creatures to survive. Light pollution contributes to the declining population of fireflies all over the world.

We try to teach the children to not be afraid of the dark, and yet we set an example the opposite of this in every possible way. We have become a culture of people afraid of the dark. We've become so afraid of the dark that a flashlight, or a candle, or an ordinary light bulb is not enough for those times we need to make our way in darkness, and rather we attempt to make the night as bright as day using absurdly powerful and harsh lighting. The first night this light was turned on, I stepped out of the house before going to bed because I thought I was missing out on viewing one of the big moons. My disappointment could not be more total. It was a devastating discovery.

People come and go in the houses above me, so maybe that will happen and they will go, or perhaps the vegetation will overtake the light pole, as it sometimes does in that area and I can get back to enjoying the night, but I'm afraid that the encroachment, the absolute pollution and all its consequences are here to stay, and I don't like it. Not at all.