Saturday, June 17, 2006

HEAVENLY BODIES: Endangererd Skies and the Nerd's Teeny-Bopper Summer Romance That Never Was

The dark and starry night is endangered and one of the world’s leading academic organizations studying light pollution has predicted that the last truly dark areas in the US will be gone by 2025. The National Park Service’s Night Sky Team, comprised of three people, travels from national park to national park, studying some of the darkest skies in the country, assessing light pollution and gathering data that might increase awareness of the problem (who really is aware of the problem? I, for one, was not before reading about it in this summer’s double issue of National Geographic Adventure) as well as help lobbyist push for better lighting laws.

Back in the summer before senior year of high school—yes, during those wonderful awkward days of our nerd’s life—I spent six weeks in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, in a summer program for smart kids. The highlight of the program was a weekend of canoeing and camping in the Pine Barrens. The highlight of the canoeing and camping weekend was the second night, when we decided to forgo our tents and, instead, slept under the night sky in our sleeping bags.

It was one of the most spectacular experiences of my life. The vast stretch of celestial sky seemed to go on forever all around me and I easily lost sense of where the heavens and the earth met. Hundreds of thousands of scintillating stars surrounded me, closer and more real than I’d ever experienced them in my life, while the voices of the kids on either side of me seemed to float from space like phantoms. The ground dropped away and I could’ve been flying, my pillow person clutched to my side—

Oh right.

I took my pillow person with me to Lawrenceville.

I also took my pillow person with me on the camping trip.

It rode with me in the canoe.

It slept with me in my sleeping bag.

Yes, I was a loser.

I was also a hormonal teenager and, keeping company with boys my own age for what was, sadly, the first time, I had high hopes for that summer. Like the heroine of a teeny-bopper romance, I fully expected to fall in love with and KISS some preppy Caucasian boy from suburbia, ideally one who played football and/or soccer, was gifted with the social skills that I lacked, was on NHS and student council, read the classics, tanned easily, and would see me for the swan that I was. Ahem.

Suffice to say, the frizzy hair, big-ass spectacles and the extra 30-40 pounds weren’t helping my cause. That pillow person, however, was what did it, slamming the door shut on any possibilities for teeny-bopper love………

Right…getting back to light pollution. Not being able to see the stars would suck. Unfortunately, James Vlahos’ illuminating (okay, bad pun) article, “Night Rangers,” doesn’t seem to be available online but I’ll dig around some more for you folks. It’s a good article and you should read it.


sonia said...

During the month of August in Libya you can see about 5 shooting stars a night. It's stunning.

passion said...

and now light pollution.. as if we didnt have enough pollution already.

Soon they will talk about the pollution from Wifi's too.

pillow person? hmm

ajax1979 said...

Dude, the Pine Barrens?? Thats one of the best Sopranos episodes. Did you run into Paulie and Christopher...or for that matter the body of a Russian mobster??

Oh, light pollution is bad.


zaahir said...

was in south africa 2 weeks ago and literally lied in the bush at night and stared at the absurdity that was the evening sky - i couldn't comprehend how much busier the night sky was. just so much more visibility. this past weekend we tried to reenact the same experience on my buddy's rooftop in chelsea - just sad. at least i'm not in LA.

didn't realize there were initiatives to better enforce lighting laws. didn't even realize there were lighting laws besides those enforced on the direction of a flashlight during a campfire story. fantastic.

SabilaK said...

Sonia: I saw DOZENS of shooting stars that night I slept under the stars. It was magnificent.

Passion: I fear there's no real solution to light pollution.

Ajax: All I ran into was a disgusting outhouse. My friends and I decided not to use the outhouse.

Zaahir: What were you doing in South Africa? I've always wanted to visit the continent of my birth...