Saturday, December 17, 2005

Awash in a sea of light

When we came to this island a dozen years ago we were seeking three things:

Warmth, of course.

A life with a minimum dependence upon technology and energy consumption. The film Frankie Starlight built a sweet little house on the beach, without heat or air conditioning. M. and I furnished it with the products of our own hands. And, as far as driving goes, there is essentially only one road on the island, and it's only 20 miles long.

And dark skies. I wanted to live part of my life in a place where I could see the universe.

When we came here, there were very few lights on the island. The Double Cluster in Perseus, the Beehive in Cancer, and the Andromeda Galaxy were easy naked-eye objects. The zodiacal light reached up from the western horizon in the evening like a second Milky Way. At any time of the night I could step out onto the terrace and be overwhelmed with stars. We called our place Starlight House.

Well, it's still warm. And life is still lived close to the bone. But like everywhere else in the world, the lights are coming on. A big tourist resort has opened a few miles up the coast, the island's first; its glow pollutes the northern sky. The Bahamian Electrical Corporation has installed environmentally-insensitive street lighting along the Queen's Highway (we managed to talk them out of lighting the side road that lead to our house). And -- disaster of disasters -- a condominium development in going in next door.

The island now shows up on nighttime satellite photographs of the Earth. What a dozen years ago was a blessed patch of darkness is a dot of light. And every photon of light that is visible from space does not the least bit of good on Earth.