Friday, October 03, 2008

Night vision

Some time ago, a fellow named Paul Bogard got in touch and asked if he could include a chapter from An Intimate Look At the Night Sky in an anthology to be published by the University of Nevada Press called Let There Be Night: Testimony On Behalf of the Dark. Sure, I said. It's all yours.

The book has just arrived on my doorstep, and a sweet little book it is. I'm pleased to see contributions by friends and acquaintances: Kathleen Dean Moore, Chris Cokinos, Bob Pyle, John Tallmadge, Scott Sanders. Our confraternity of nature writers cares about the dark.

Bogard's epigraph for the book is from Henry Beston's classic The Outermost House:
Our fantastic civilization has fallen out of touch with many aspects of nature, and with none more completely than the night...With lights and ever more lights, we drive the holiness and beauty of the night back to the forests and the sea.
Bogard imagines these essays as "testimony," perhaps before committees of state legislatures or city councils contemplating regulations to limit or modify outdoor lighting. I am grateful for any testimony on behalf of the dark night sky, and appreciative of hard work by the many dark-sky campaigners who have achieved occasional successes, but I am not optimistic about the long haul. One only saves what one loves, and it's hard to find anyone these days who loves the night sky -- present company excluded.

My wife and I went to the island of Exuma a dozen years ago to enjoy the stars in a place of inky darkness. We named our place Starlight House, eschewed outdoor lighting, and prevented the Bahamas Electricity Corporation from putting up a "street light" at the end of our drive. On moonless nights we could see the zodiacal light. On almost any old night the Double Cluster in Perseus, the Beehive in Cancer, and the Andromeda Nebula were visible to the naked eye. We lay on our terrace and fell upwards into a universe of breathtaking "holiness and beauty."

Then, to our dark little island came the Four Seasons Resort and multimillion-dollar condos, with their floodlit palm trees and swimming pools lit all night whether anyone is using them or not. These folks are not being perverse. It would probably not occur to them to look up at the stars. Am I being unfair? Perhaps. But when one prefers floodlit palms to the Milky Way there's not much hope of saving the dark.

Thank you, Paul, for this gathering of testimony. Let's hope it helps.