Thursday, December 25, 2008

Starry, Starry Night

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.


Carl said...

Follow the star while it can still be seen.

Wonderful post. Touching and thoughtful.

Anonymous said...

The sentiments included in your entry are greatly appreciated at a time when we seem to be destroying the great creation we were given with little thought or notice.

The further away from the night sky we get and the quiet of the night listening to the peepers, the more shallow our existence.

Maybe that's why so many of us are unhappy, depressed, bored or filled with frantic attempts to fill the void with activities like gambling.

Thanks for such a blessed entry on such a blessed holiday.

Gladys Kravitz said...

Dear readers, I have had to delete a prior comment. Thankfully another reader informed me that it was intended to 'flame' an anti-casino blogger.

I would like to remind all readers of this blog, whether anti, pro, or neutral on the casino issue, that this is not a Topix message board. And that this is not the place to take out your frustrations.

And furthermore, that this is Christmas Day.

Earlier this year, I received a threat of violence on this blog from a comment that required police intervention.

Is this what we can continue to expect from those who'd promote a casino? Ignorant, hate-filled spitballs on this holiest (for some of us) of days?

I hear Foxwoods is open all day today. Why not go try your 'luck' there?


carverchick said...

A wonderful and touching post, Gladys. It is also, to me, a bit coincidental because last evening I stepped out onto my deck for some fresh air and looked up. The night was crisp and the sky was clear. The stars stopped me in my tracks and I must have stood there for a good 20 minutes just staring up at them....then I turned my head north-west toward the point in the sky that is threatened by a towering building of casino light and was thankful that it is not there....and if I, you or anyone else who loves and cares about our quality of life have a say, it never will be.

Thank you for this post. It is a sentiment to ponder as much as the heavens are a wonder to behold.

Anonymous said...

Glaydys,so true.And irreguardless of the casino do we really need a streetlight every 25 feet? Eventually our society will need to power down.We waste so much in this superculture we live in.Excellent post.

Anonymous said...

Hi Gladys:

At 8, I got my first pair of glasses, and was thrilled that trees actually had leaves that you could see from across the street. When I was in high school I was part of a group of students that used to go canoeing up in Quetico Superior park in Ontario, talk about stars being so close it seemed like you could almost touch them. I still go out into my back yard and marvel at the stars. One of the reasons why I don't want this project is because I too, want to be able to keep seeing the stars from my back yard. Thanks for a wonderful post during this somewhat difficult holiday season.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful blog Gladys. Only one with a pure heart could write like this.
God bless!

Anonymous said...

Gladys, it's good to see you can and have left the casino issue for the spirit and the true meaning of Christmas. For those that don't know you, this tells them the kind of person you truly are, kind and caring.

For those that do not have this kind of spirit at this time of year please out of politeness, and at least for the respect of your parents, leave those that do alone.

Anonymous said...

Since it is far enough beyond the holiday that the sensitivity to the crass intrusion has dissipated, the importance of the night sky to ourselves and fellow critters cannot be underestimated.
A number of towns on the south coast have zoning regs that mandate dark sky lighting. Maybe it's time, once the casino issue is buried courtesy of SCOTUS to examine changing issue like that within our communities. I belive that Plymouth has such an ordinance we might want to copy. They seem to be progressive in the issues they bring forth which recently included consideration of banning plastic bags in supermarkets. How 21st Century?