Seeing Stars

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Oh, how I miss the stars!

Growing up, I could look up on any given night.  If it wasn’t raining or foggy, I’d see the sky plastered with bright, crisp points of blue, white and green light, shimmering in the black velvety sky.  Toward the horizon the bright lights shot the horizon with whitish-green or orange and blotted them out, but above the canopy was a diamond glitter matting of sparkling jewels.  The Milky Way laid itself in a hazy, wraith-glow across the sky and invited grass-and-dew imaginings of far away worlds.

Things seem different to me east of the Rockies.  The stars seem so few, so faint, so isolated and rare.  They poke through the sky desperate and weak, seeking someone to notice their presence, to turn a smiling eye on them.  But they don’t have much of a chance here – the air is heavy, humid, murky.  The ravaging city lights cast blinding, harsh, glaring and merciless coronas.  The stars are blotted behind clouds, wet air and the smothering, suffocating scattering of sodium-vapor lamps, headlights, neon signs, marquis signs, golden arches, grinning monarchs and roller coaster decoration tubes of yellow, green, red, purple.

I haven’t seen so many of the familiar night companions I watched in my youth – Orion, Ursa Major, Pleiades, the Milky Way.  The last I saw of them was on a wind-swept, ragweed crusted hilltop on the southern edge of a river, staring through binoculars to identify the Seven Sisters independently.  The blanket of shining lights above seemed to ripple with the warm winds which raced breakneck through the valleys and canyons and rattled the skeletal grasses and gnarled old oaks.

My wife and I traveled east with Orion on our right shoulder for three thousand miles, and when we at last turned north to head for what we have come to call “The Black Hole,” I began to reflect on how, perhaps, that name is more fitting than I first thought.  In a black hole, even light cannot run fast enough to escape.  And here, we can’t seem to run fast enough to escape.  But we’re in good company, because this black hole in our world seems to even suck the light out of the stars before it reaches us.


All original content © 2009 DarcKnyt
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11 thoughts on “Seeing Stars

  1. ….man..i think about this all the time!…great post!!..there’s nothing i can add except I miss them too….

    Welcome back! I’m glad you stopped by! Isn’t it weird how you can come to miss something like stars in the night sky??

  2. I wonder how our sense of darkness influences us. Like you, I grew up where it got dark. Really dark. You could see stars upon stars and the sunsets were so stunning people would stop their cars in front of our house to watch the sunset on the lake. Clear sky!

    Yeah, as much as the dark it’s the clarity of the sky. I don’t know how far I have to get away from The Big City to start seeing them, but I know some of it’s also the thick, wet air ’round here. And in winter it’s just too damned cold to go star-gazing.

    But my son is growing up in this city and the stars are hard to see. It is never truly dark. You know, it is a city. And I love this city and I love city skylines, but I wonder how he’ll think about the night sky and night time without ever being in the dark.

    I want so bad to move to a (non-working) ranch or farm somewhere with crisp air. Wherever THAT might be.

  3. I remember this one time up at my friend’s cottage. We were walking back from the fishing hole at like 2am and I just looked up at the stars and was amazed at the fact that I could see stars. I hadn’t seen stars in so long. (And I grew up in a town with an observatory therefore light pollution by-laws but still couldn’t see that many stars.)

    It’s astonishing, isn’t it? And growing up being able to see them and then having to adjust to NOT seeing them is a shock.

  4. I am so spoiled with where I live. The stars are beautiful. I live in the middle of nowhere so there are no streetlights, neon signs, traffic lights, etc. As I mentioned before, it is so quiet you can hear the grass grow or the snow fall.

    If you don’t mind the freezing temperatures for more than half the year, it’s the best place on earth to live!

    Well, it’s not just the freezing temperatures for half the year — we get that here too — but it’s the SWELTERING summers. Where I grew up we had SWELTERING but not MUGGY, for about 8 months or more a year. I don’t like extremes, period. But lonely, remote places sound more and more appealing, I have to confess.

  5. I’ve always lived in the city and haven’t gone overnight camping, so I rarely get to see a sky full of stars. However I do remember how amazing it was to look up at the sky at night during the Northeastern Blackout of 2003. It was the country sky in the big city.

    It’s an addicting experience, let me tell ya. I’ve lived in smaller suburbs all my life, and the idea of not being able to see the stars this far from a major city is something I have the worst time getting my mental arms around.


    Me too! Must be amazing!

  7. I like going up to my parents’ house to see the stars every once in a while. It’s always nice to get out of the city’s omnipresent glow.

    This is the best time of the year to head up there because there’s something even MORE amazing than the stars – lightning bugs! When I used to work at the golf course I’d be coming home at 10 or later using a rural road that cut through cornfields. At this time of year the corn isn’t too high (knee high by the 4th of July, right?) and the fireflies would be EVERYWHERE. I would turn my lights off while driving on that road (don’t worry – it’s Ohio so the road was straight and flat) and just wonder at all the greenish yellow flickers that surrounded my car. We’re not talking, “oh! There’s one!” We’re talking THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of them.

    Ah, the good ole days *sigh*

    Got my fill of lightning bug wonder when I was in Georgia. Now they’re just another mess on the windshield. But the lights of night — apart from the arc vapor variety — are truly wondrous. Nice to have you back around, stranger. 🙂

  8. I don’t think I could live in a place where I couldn’t see the stars–it would be like living in a place without sun. I have been fascinated with them, the constellations, the myths, the mysteries since I was a child. We even have one of those constellation machine thingies that will cast the night sky on the ceilings and walls of a dark room. My kids love it. 🙂

    Those are cool! Yes, there’s a claustrophobic feeling which goes along with not being able to see them — like being indoors all the time.

  9. You might be interested in a site called Clear Dark Sky. What they do is make up colored charts — and from them, Google Maps — of stargazing conditions over the next 48 hours, for, umm, probably thousands of locations in North America. Explanations of how to read the charts are at the site, but basically they forecast the skies and ground conditions on 7 dimensions (darkness, cloud cover, wind, and so on).

    It’s probably easier to interpret the Google Maps. A little pin is placed at each observation point; its color gives you a single indicator of light pollution there over the next 48 hours. Here’s the map of states/provinces with observation points. And here’s the map for Texas.

    A couple years back I found a more general site which showed where, on average, were the best sky-watching locations — without getting into specific forecasts. Can’t find it now, though. Rats.

    That’s great information, JES! Thank you so much for that! I’ll check out those links — y’know, just to indulge myself a little. Thank you again!

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