I mean, really . . . who needs the night? You can’t see. It’s dark, for God’s sake! You stumble and hit your shins, or you miss the bin and the trash goes all over the ground. You can’t get the key in the door. The town has to pay to light up the streets. Stores are closed! You can’t buy all kinds of things when the moon is up. People all over the planet just sleep through it; so how important can it be?
But our species has evolved with the night. It’s been our companion, our teacher, our refuge – and our inspiration. After millennia of social change against a backdrop of starry skies, it’s been only a brief two-hundred years of rapid industrialization pushing the night ever-farther away. Now we’re beginning to discover what’s been lost – and what could be lost – if just one of Earth’s many inhabitants continues to contaminate an ecosystem shared by all human and non-human life. Asking “Who needs the night?” is like asking who needs air or water or soil. All life on our only planet, in fact, depends on the healing rejuvenation that night-time provides. One needs to both inhale and exhale to remain alive. We cannot have one without the other. By connecting night with day, we realize wholeness. And by revering the night, we revere the day.
For the hundreds of million humans who live in urbanized zones, the night is something strange that goes bump – something that’s been eliminated from their existence. These are the unfortunates who have yet to see the light about darkness. They barely know it exists – or what a star-filled natural night sky actually looks like. I hear them when they get off the train in Flagstaff in the middle of the night. They look up; their mouths drop open; a gasp helplessly escapes their lips, and they mutter: “I never knew they were there! “
But they DO know they are there. The stars have been overhead for billions of years, with humanity building an endless succession of cultures rooted in the eternal vistas seen at night. As many have accurately said: we are Star People. And when starlight falls on our eye/mind/heart it ignites a nostalgia so deep that it moves us beyond words. Artists, spirit chasers, shamans, singers, priests, writers, poets, explorers and all manner of noctivagants have forever been trying to reflect or express that overwhelming oneness.
Materialism dominates the globe. It reaches into every nook and cranny, every forest, icecap, island or desert. It exists to occupy every ‘undeveloped’ [i.e.: un-economized] molecule. It’s gobbled up the day, and has turned its sights on the night. As Place runs out, industry has turned to Time as a resource to be mined. Heaven knows, there’s money to be made while others sleep.
And then . . . just as nocturnal destruction seems inevitable, along come pesky humans, crying out that the night has value; that people need the night; that animals need the night, that human health – both physical and psychological – depend on nighttime and darkness. What a novel concept – that the environment which has sustained us since replication of the first cell might actually have a necessary use? From what until-recently has been considered a wasteland, an Empty Quarter when and where nothing significant happens, has emerged the Other Half of the Day.
The growing momentum in communities around the world to recognize, respect and revere natural darkness is an answer to a realization about how essentially precious is our individual need to at least occasionally stare deeply into the cosmos, and by so-doing renew our sense of perspective on the turmoil of existence. Looking deep into the Milky Way we drink from an endless source of wisdom and desperately-needed guidance.
But our heavenly inheritance will disappear soon-enough if we don’t fight for our right to be able to continue our long conversation with eternity. Humanity must acknowledge that we NEED contemplation and insight in the face of the challenges of modernity. The night sky has always served that purpose. The night contains answers to questions we have not yet learned how to ask. Only if we take the steps necessary to protect this awesomely-beautiful, deeply meaningful, absolutely essential part of life on Earth can we rebuild our stairway to the stars.
- Lance Diskan, Flagstaff Dark Skies Coalition