essays

I Remember the Milky Ways

Milky WayI remember the Milky Way… both of them… the galaxy and the candy bar.

And I like being in the dark.

Being raised in rural Michigan in the 50s and 60s meant I saw a lot of dark nights. Stepping off our back screened porch during a sultry summer night and turning off the one 60 watt outside light, meant that the Milky Way was right there waiting to be discovered.

If I could stand the mosquitoes.

Here’s a troubling thought. Many kids will grow up not ever experiencing the full impact of the Milky Way. Even more troubling is the fact that many kids – many – will grow up never seeing more than a couple of stars.

Is this the end of night?

Paul Bogard, author of “The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artifical Light.” talks about the light pollution so prevalent around the world in industrialized countries.

Evening falls, and then night, and we look up into that nighttime sky, in all its glory, and see… well, there was a time when we all saw a slew of stars and planets and galaxies.

These days, many, most, are likely to look up and see reflected man-made light from street lights and gas stations, shopping centers and parking lots.  Blazing away.  Banishing the dark.

We’ve lost the dark – the true dark – says my guest today, Paul Bogard.  And with it, true night.  And, he says, there are consequences.
This hour, On Point:  our vanishing darkness and the end of night
.

Tom Ashbrook

On a scale of 1 to 9, Milky Way candy barwith 1 being dark, Bogard says there are no spots left in the continental U.S. that would rate a 1. None!

When we moved to Costa Rica, we had a lot of darker nights… but even our nights here were influenced by the lights on the road below and on the horizon. One a clear night, the glow of San Jose, 25 miles away, was visible.  I have always remarked that the installation of street lights in our development was a mixed blessing. I feel more secure, but I miss walking and looking up to see the thousand points of light.

But at least I have the option of being in the dark, if I chose.

Now I want a Milky Way – both of them.

Mark Van Patten writes a blog called Going Like Sixty and has been married to the same woman since 1968.

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