Last year, I visited a small National Monument called Pipe Springs in Utah, the site of the Piute, Native American reservation. It wasn’t the museum of native artifacts dating back thousands of years, amazing in its own right, that struck with me awe. Nights crisp cold, the sky blazed with an unencumbered view of the Milky Way against a backdrop of pure onyx. It had been long time since I seen such cosmic majesty with my own eyes and not from Hubble satellite pictures. A recent weekend newspaper suggested exotic places to visit with National Geographic views of the heavens. I’m usually looking for light in the darkness, but it saddened me that we must now travel off the beaten track to experience a sky uncluttered by luminous pollution.
I’m lucky to have spent my childhood in small town America where city lights didn’t shroud the night with an ethereal haze. Before progress marched in with 24/7 merchandising, a kid could lie on his back in a field, watch for meteors, and dream of traveling to the stars. I have memories of walking trails in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness with moonless skies so bright that you could hike until midnight.
History and mythology painted the night in fearful hues to cement our early phobia of darkness. Our predecessors were frightened when their eyes could no longer tell shapes from shadows. We were designed to walk in the light. Electricity changed all that. Where once the night was owned by only that which slinked in its colorless gloom, it is now a prisoner of fugitive light. My father used to say, nothing good happens after midnight. Not anymore. Some great sales can be found at this hour. The night is alive with a glowing sky of all night human activity.
Night can be a writer’s muse, the darkness a storyteller’s canvas. Ghosts, poltergeists, vampires, werewolves and witches leave the sanctuary of shadow when the sun sets. Like an endangered species, a specter’s natural habitat is shrinking. With the advent of artificial sun, now even denizens of the dark can go shopping at Wal-Mart.
You don’t have to spend a pile of money to see the night for what it should be. Watch for a clear night and new moon. Find a decent hill or field a few dozen miles from the nearest town, highway or gas station. Better yet, drifting on a lake in the wilderness is like having your own planetarium. Bring the kids. Tell a ghost story. Get goose bumps when you see the Milky Way, and don’t forget to look over your shoulder in case a werewolf decides to join you for a little stargazing.
Where do you go to view a sky uncluttered by fugitive light?