Last week I learned why we really shouldn’t be afraid of the dark…and why we need to be kept in the dark…
During my long years as an outdoor guide, I spent many a night gazing at the beautiful starry nights with my international clients, quite in awe, and wondering all those things that you usually wonder. Is there life out there? Is there an end to the universe? Ultimately realizing that you are just as insignificant as a grain of sand, in the grand scheme of things. It kind of put things in perspective.
Then I moved to the Sinai desert in Egypt, where I spent more nights stargazing whilst lying in the sand and learning the value of our night sky from the local nomadic Bedouin guides. Long ago, before technology interrupted their lives and changed their culture forever, they used the sky to navigate, it told them about the weather, the seasons and when to cultivate or harvest, and predicted evil and misfortunate as well, for example when certain stars were visible the women did not fall pregnant for fear of the child having abnormalities. They were able to use the movement of stars as indicators of natural disasters. The stars were as vital to a Bedouin trying to find his way in a featureless desert at they were to a sailor navigating the open sea. The Bedouin have a star called The Guest’s Star – if you arrive while it is still up, your host is obliged to serve you dinner. If it has already gone down, you are out of luck. Life in general revolved around the stars and their cycles.
But our dark skies are shrinking, and here’s the food for thought part of this blog:
Recently I was in the high country New Zealand town of Tekapo, which is an International Dark Sky Reserve.
Here is an excerpt from their website and what it’s all about:
The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is comprised of Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park and the Mackenzie Basin of New Zealand’s South island. Outdoor lighting controls were first put into place in the area during the early 1980s. They have not only helped minimize light pollution for the nearby Mt. John Observatory, but also conserve energy, protect wildlife and make the area a popular stargazing destination for tourists.
The natural night has played a critical role in the areaʼs history as its first residents, the Māori, not only used the night sky to navigate to the island but also integrated astronomy and star lore into their culture and daily lives. The reserve seeks to honor that history by keeping the night sky a protected and integral part of the areaʼs natural and cultural landscape. It is a perfect place to protect and honor those traditions as the reserveʼs Mackenzie Basin has the clearest, darkest and the most spectacular night sky in New Zealand.
In the Tekapo township Dark Sky reserve, there is a curfew on floodlights, and outdoor lights must be shielded from up-spill (shining upwards).
I visited the Dark Sky visitors centre and was mortified to learn that we are losing our night skies across the globe. I know animals go extinct everyday and that we are drowning in plastic. But I never gave thought to the fact we can lose our night sky….apparently around 80% of countries cannot see the stars at night. You might not think this is a big deal, but….due to light pollution millions of children will never see the stars. Our traditional knowledge and connection to the stars is being eroded everyday. Also, light pollution is bad for nocturnal pollinators, migratory birds and human beings too. We evolved to be in tune with a day/night cycle. Our circadian rhythm is set by the arrival of daylight. Light pollution turns light into day and upsets the natural hormonal responses of our bodies. How do you feel about that?
Maybe that is why I enjoy camping in the wild so much – I’m back in my caveman rhythm. As humans we need to connect more with nature. We need nature – it doesn’t need us. And modern life takes us further away from it each day.
What can you do? Draw the curtains at night, rethink your garden lighting (better still, have none) and use sensors for security instead of bright white lights. And let’s save the night skies for future generations and for our fauna and flora. Personally, at this point, I am so upset with humans and their disrespect of nature that I care more about the animals and plants surviving.