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Living in the Dark

“The true joy of a moonlit night is something we no longer understand. Only the men of old, when there were no lights, could understand the true joy of a moonlit night.”

- Yasunari Kawabata,

Palm-of-the-Hand Stories

As I drove down our 7 miles of dirt road the other night, I found myself thinking sadly of how bright it's become with all the new structures that have been built. Because of our beautiful views here, many people don't bother with curtains, so if they have their lights on inside their houses, they shine like beacons in the dark. And several people feel the need to have outdoor lights on too, which glare even farther into what had been dark before.

I think of what I read recently of songbirds having problems navigating when they migrate at night - which apparenty many of them do - and are distracted and confused by our human made light. I've also read that mammals' nocturnal clocks can be interrupted by our lights.

And, there has been increased awareness of how our outdoor lighting impacts our ability to view the beauty of our night skies. I'm not sure that awareness has really made us change much though, as we increasingly light our surroundings.

I love the dark. I'm not sure why except that it feels natural to me. Even on the darkest nights, if I let my eyes adjust I can see the shapes of my horses and of the trees. On nights with even just a quarter moon, shapes become more distinct, and if there is snow, the light reflects, glittering as if the stars were embedded in the snow.

Only when we are in truly dark areas can we see how many stars there are in the sky and that they are like sand on the beach. The Milky Way stretches across the sky like an everlasting jet contrail. It's telling, I think, that we now discuss light "pollution". Light is now a substance that we consider harmful to us. Is it because we can no longer see the night sky by which we used to navigate? Have we lost our way?

I am not afraid of the dark. And I hope you aren't either. It's peaceful and beautiful. Turn out a light and discover what you can see, and recover something you might have lost.

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