Take a moment right now and go outside and see what’s happening above you and come back and read the rest of this article.
What did you see? A plane flying overhead carrying people on a vacay somewhere? A shining sun, a setting one? Or birds making their way across the horizon?
It’s Look Up In the Sky Day, a day when everyone is encouraged to go take a gander overhead.
Here in Vancouver, there are clouds above but also a glimpse of blue skies.
It will be a clear night. And it will be a full lunar eclipse.
Think of the last time you looked up and saw real darkness. Was it high in the mountains somewhere or perhaps over the prairies where land and horizon became one stretch of inky emptiness as far as the eye can take in?
Off the coast of Mayne Island halfway between Victoria and Vancouver, there is one perfect spot while floating on a black and impenetrable ocean where the only manmade light on land is tucked into the folding slopes of the Tsartlip First Nations reserve. Find that tiny speck and drift your eyes upwards on an August night. Then allow your sight to adjust to the darkness and the stars begin to peek through, one after the other, and fill the night sky.
Stars signal many things; the sight of them can still stir in us quietness and awe, a sign of the restlessness and clamour in our daily lives.
In the book The End of Night, Paul Bogard travels the globe to find the night where it lives. He goes from the brightest spot on the planet, the Luxor Beam in Las Vegas with its 39 xenon lamps each standing six feet tall and three feet wide reflecting off mirrors and bouncing off neon, to desert nights where the sky is so starlit it looks like snow.
Does darkness still exist and can it be seen in a world of increasing artificial light? Some say there is no longer pure darkness in the lower 48th and many of us who grew up in a North American or European city or suburb and are under the age of say 70 have never experienced what has been called real night. Bogard has the statistic that eight out of 10 North Americans born today won’t ever live where they can see the Milky Way.
Bogard, who teaches creative nonfiction at James Madison University in Virginia, writes, as expected, beautifully. His insights are measured but at the same time primal. He grieves for what has been lost with the intrusion of artificial lights but recognizes our light-saturated age “does good work — guiding our way, offering a sense of security, adding beauty to our nightscape — [but] most of it is waste. The light we see in photos from space, from an airplane window, from our fourteenth-floor hotel room, is light allowed to shine into the sky, into our eyes, illuminating little of what it was meant to, and costing us dearly.”
It is a panoramic tour, full of vast questions for the universe and also deeply personal reflections. Introduce artificial light into the environment and the effect on ecosystems is irreversible. Species become exposed to increased predation when their foraging time is reduced. We confuse the internal circadian rhythm of fish and birds and interfere with the reproductive cycles of fireflies by injecting human light into their natural night.
We confuse and interfere ourselves internally as well. The time we believe we should stay awake stretches as we try to do more with our day before sleep can no longer be put off, ignoring our natural rhythms that night means resting. Our sleep is hurried. Bogard forwards the argument that perhaps sleep isn’t just eight hours (or for most of us, six or seven on good nights) of being turned off. When we sleep, we bind ourselves to a relationship with darkness and all the unknowingness that it involves.
There’s a level of surrendering that we no longer allow ourselves. Sleep has become just a way to recharge our batteries — the way the half-borg, half-human Seven of Nine did in “Star Trek Voyager.” Instead of drifting off into sleep, she stood inside a pod where green electrical energy flowed into her neck.
“Most people when they descend into the waters of sleep, instead of aiming at the depth off that, they’ve got their sights set on the morning shore of waking,” Bogard quotes a specialist studying the epidemic of sleep disorders. There is a mystery tour in dreams that we bypass because we are already thinking of where we are going to be the next day, what needs to be done before we get to recharge again.
And perhaps, that is what night is, real night, it is true reflection where we emerge blinking and aware of the illuminating loss of darkness.
Where is your favourite place to see the night sky in Canada? Tweet @VacayCanada your picture or your thoughts on where we can still see night.
Written and submitted by Petti Fong, the Editor of Vacay.ca
Image: Solar and Lunar Eclipse via Shutterstock
Featured Image: Lunar Eclipse via Shutterstock