In fourth grade, a fuzzy blackboard and failing grades launched a trek to the optometrist. On the drive back home the world was a crisper, sharper place through the lenses of a brand new pair of wire-framed aviators. Now, properly-corrected eyes marveled at new shades and textures and the vibrancy of a forgotten world that had, over time, gone dull and blurry.
But nothing prepared me for the moment I stepped out on the breezeway later that evening and looked up.
Sequins on velvet. Alive.
Winking, twinkling, blinking, sparkling gems of light. Small and large. As unique as faces. Multi-colored jewels.
A treasure overhead.
Sometime before memory, this miracle had slipped away from me, melting into whitish specks in a murky darkness. Nothing like this spectacle, this firestorm that everyone around me took for granted. How wonderful this was. I had the stars back - and I hadn't even known they were gone.
I lay on the breezeway for hours that night, staring up at the sky with the expanse of heaven now at my fingertips, pondering those great questions of infinity. When did time begin? What was there before time? How far does the universe go? What's outside of it? Who made it? And if God made it, then who made God?
The cycle of questions would go on and on until the magnitude of the mystery made me stop and shiver. And then I'd do it again.
Several decades later, and not far from that same spot, I heard it mentioned that a glowing casino tower would likely erase the stars from the sky. And of all the appalling consequences I learned to expect of a mega-resort casino, that is the one that simply caused my jaw to drop.
Surely, I thought, no one would agree to let this happen to something as remarkable and precious, and yet as ordinary and elemental as our stars. This isn't Las Vegas.
I lamented that anyone would put a price on the stars in our quiet part of the world. It seemed people needed a place with stars. But until I read a recent article in National Geographic, I never realized how much we need the night itself.
In the magazine's November cover story, The Vanishing Night, which also includes an amazing photo gallery, I learned that
Unlike astronomers, most of us may not need an undiminished view of the night sky for our work, but like most other creatures we do need darkness. Darkness is as essential to our biological welfare, to our internal clockwork, as light itself. The regular oscillation of waking and sleep in our lives—one of our circadian rhythms—is nothing less than a biological expression of the regular oscillation of light on Earth. So fundamental are these rhythms to our being that altering them is like altering gravity.Many times I've heard members of the modern Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe proclaim, in one breath, to be stewards of the land, while in the next, that they require one of the world's largest casinos for the economic survival of their 1,500 member nation. This hypocrisy is often defended by others who can't imagine a Native-American culture that doesn't live in actual , and not theoretical, harmony with nature. And of course, many, many more people who apparently just see no point in looking up.
But the truth remains that
In the end, humans are no less trapped by light pollution than the frogs in a pond near a brightly lit highway. Living in a glare of our own making, we have cut ourselves off from our evolutionary and cultural patrimony—the light of the stars and the rhythms of day and night. In a very real sense, light pollution causes us to lose sight of our true place in the universe, to forget the scale of our being, which is best measured against the dimensions of a deep night with the Milky Way—the edge of our galaxy—arching overhead.And now I understand why, at the age of nine, I needed to lie under those stars for hours. Why I stop the car across from an open field so my kids and I can stare at the harvest moon, or get them up at wee hours to make wishes on shooting stars. Why we always need to find the big dipper at night, or witness the 'snow ring' before a storm or spot the man in the moon.
Because we can.
Earlier this year my friend Carverchick wrote a wonderful blog about light pollution. In it she featured a photograph of the Dakota Dunes Casino "Teepee of Light", a night stealing edifice to greed erected by another group of 'stewards of the land' in Saskatchewan, Canada.
More and more in our region, a tell-tale orange sky - the hue of vanishing night that follows large scale development - is the inheritance of failing to appreciate and understand the preciousness, and the need for darkness. Look at this image of our planet at night, with it's bottlenecks of brightness glowing like a new firmament.
Our night sky is quickly becoming an endangered species and we are the 'frogs in a pond near a brightly lit highway.'
Perhaps some forget to appreciate it, while others never learned to. On the nine-point Bortle Dark-Sky Scale, New York city scores a nine, according to the International Dark Sky Association.
Perhaps one needs to find the stars again, or even for the first time, like I did at the age of nine, blessed with new eyes thanks to a new pair of glasses.
And so, on this day, when many of the Christian faith gather to celebrate an event - the birth of a child under a spectacular concurrence of stars - an event which changed the world and connected us to the heavens and each other, I suggest we give more than a hurried thought to our world and to those multi-colored jewels, that treasure overhead, before exchanging it so easily for a few pieces of silver.