Keep me in the Dark. Please!

Published on
29 November 2011

milky-way-smallWhen was the last time you saw the Milky Way? What, you say you’ve never seen it? Well, you’re hardly alone.

We live in a time when millions of people are growing up in urban areas where they are lucky to see a few stars now and then.

The night sky is being obscured by an over-abundance of light. What most folks don’t realize, and some refuse to believe, is that more light doesn’t make us safer.

Lots of light at night disrupts our sleep patterns, disorients plants, birds and other animals, and obscures the night sky, but it does not keep us safe. Research proves this fact – Google it. I heard this explained in a really great way once: criminals need light to see just like we do. What is going to attract more attention – a light switching on in an otherwise dark place, or a shadow in a lit place?

People aren’t content to light their homes or properties for safety anymore – some use lighting for dramatic effect. Some use lighting to scream “Hey, world, I don’t give a bleep how much I pay the electric company each month! I’m RICH!!” Lights shine upward through the branches of trees and spotlights illuminate the home’s façade.

(And don’t get me started on Holiday Lights – we have a neighbor who makes Clark Griswold look like a piker.)

It’s hard for me to imagine NOT knowing the Big & Little Dippers, Orion, Cassiopeia and Gemini’s twins. Or never to have seen the Milky Way – that view into the densest part of our galaxy that appears as a pale smudge across the sky. When I was first aware of the night sky, I thought it was just some thin, high clouds until I had the chance to view it through a telescope. Wow, seeing those billions of stars for the first time, I remember thinking to myself – “surely, we aren’t alone.”

There is a danger in humanity losing a connection to the cosmos, for it means not only do we risk losing perspective (Earth isn’t the Center of the Universe), but we also risk becoming disconnected from thousands of years of human history.

What is the story of the Three Wise Men following a star to a barn if a “star” is just something one might see in a book? And how many other cultures have important stories that refer to the heavens whose meanings will be lost without those guideposts, the stars?

What happens to the “Signs of the Zodiac”? What does it mean to be a “Pisces” if there are no constellations in one’s frame of reference? How does one respond to Thomas Hardy’s “Far from the Madding Crowd,” which includes a beautiful, romantic, poetic description of someone determining the time of night by reading the constellations above?

Humans were once able to read the sky just as we read the newspaper today. They could find the time, determine coming weather systems, even navigate the oceans just by knowing how to read the sky.

Sure, we have lots of gadgets that do those things for us now, but that isn’t my point. There was a time – maybe 100 years ago – when we not only didn’t have the gadgets, but we didn’t even need them. We had the sky – the stars, the planets, the moon, plus the knowledge of how to read them.

We are rapidly moving in a direction where not only have we lost the knowledge, but we’re losing the stars too. All we’ll be left with are the gadgets. Imagine how Thomas Hardy would sound today: “He stood and glanced at his i-Phone which told him it was precisely 11:23pm Eastern Standard Time.”

We are losing the poetry.

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