Tuesday, August 28, 2007

SoHo, August 2007

I read an interesting article in The New Yorker last week about the disappearance of the dark night sky - how there are fewer and fewer places in the world where we can see the stars as people would have seen them 200 years ago.

Imagine - back then, with everyone using candlelight and oil lamps, you could probably have seen a vast array of stars and planets even from the middle of New York. Now you can see only the brightest of stars, and they look like pale specks floating in an orangey, sodium-vapor-tinted soup.

When I was a kid in Florida, we used to be able to see the Milky Way galaxy from our front yard. We looked straight up, and there it was - a wide, pale band across the sky. (I couldn’t quite figure out why anyone thought it looked like a candy bar.) Even then, though, the sky to the south, over the city of Tampa, was too bright to see stars well.

It was only in Morocco, where I lived in a village with no electricity, that I saw a truly dark sky. Not only could I see the Milky Way - I could see satellites spinning across the heavens, not to mention dozens of shooting stars. I didn’t need a telescope, either. I remember lying on my roof one night, listening to a new mix tape that my friend Kevin sent me, watching the show.

One of the few things I dislike about New York is the absence of stars. We lose something as a species when we can’t look up and be amazed. We forget that there’s no ceiling to our world, and so much more than just us.


Anonymous said...

I really miss the stars! We used to see them in Kansas City when I was a kid, too. In fact, New Yorkers could see stars until fairly recently.

O, sweep of stars over Harlem streets,
O, little breath of oblivion that is night.
A city building
To a mother's song.
A city dreaming
To a lullaby.
Reach up your hand, dark boy, and take a star.
Out of the little breath of oblivion
That is night,
Take just
One star

-- Langston Hughes

The loss of the night sky is terrible. Stars provide hope, as Mr. Hughes understood so well.

Thanks for this, Steve.

Anonymous said...

What an amazing poem! Thank YOU!

Anonymous said...

You're welcome! I love Langston Hughes's work.

See, Steve? You were writing about the night sky on the very night of the totally eclipsed full moon. Way down under, our friend Pod watched the whole eclipse, then tossed and turned all night Iong. Who knows what you were tuning in to, but I like to think you did feel it, even if it wasn't part of your consciousness.

Anonymous said...

i think so too. we are often very unaware of our influences.

when i lived in nz, my little house in the middle of nowhere, on the edge of moonlight bay, was right under the milky way. i have never seen the stars as 3D before. it was stunning. once away from the city here you can see the same. we are so tiny!

(see steve, not obsessing over size...)