Thursday, November 15, 2007

Starry Nights

The days are growing noticeably shorter. When it's rainy, as it was today, dusk seems to come even sooner. I find the shrinking daylight alarming in a visceral way, even though here in the house on Tennessee Avenue, circa 2007, many varieties of electrical lighting are available. In fact, it's hard for a modern gal like me to even imagine the deep inky darkness of unilluminated nighttime.

The closest I've been to truly dark night skies includes a couple of clear nights at witch camp in British Columbia, a night at a friend's ranch in Cazadero, California, and at a cabin I used to rent on the Mendocino coastline. Lake Tahoe was a place with some fairly dark nights, as was Ouray, Colorado. There were dark nights at Avebury in England, too, obscurred by streetlights, unfortunately. Put altogether, the memories I have of truly dark skies can be counted on one hand.

Real night is very very dark. Have you ever seen it? In a truly dark location, the stars and Milky Way are so bright that you can cast a shadow from the light. I always feel sad when I realize there is a whole generation of urban kids who have never seen the Milky Way, not ever. The star spangled sky is such a dazzling and inspirational sight. How does anyone manage to experience hope without it?

Strange to think that just one hundred years ago, everyone knew about the Milky Way, everyone had experienced a night so dark (during the dark of the moon) that it was impossible to do anything except tilt their heads back and gaze.

In spite of the wonders of a starry sky, when it's dark, it's dangerous. I've tripped and fallen every time I've been exposed to a very dark night. And, too, think about all the creatures who inhabit the dark: the lions, the tigers, the bears.

Oh my! Sometimes I try to imagine how frightening it must have been once upon a time, long before incandescent light. Just thinking about it makes me want to light as many candles as I can, as if I'm warding off the imagined darkness as a tribute to my ancestors.

Five weeks to go before winter solstice. Gosh. Better go buy another huge bag of tealights.


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


Squirrel said...

Beautiful shots, the leaves and pavement one makes me think of time passing. poignant.

5 more weeks... time does fly by...

Lynne said...

The Milky Way was visible at my Mom's house last week. Sweet, crisp, starlit night.

From our cabin in Colorado the MW was visible whenever we had a clear sky. No lights to penetrate the stark darkness.

Not so in NJ. I miss those skies.

Barbara said...

Just today the leaf color started to be so apparent. I'm glad we finally have Fall before Winter gets here.

As for the dark, I noticed it recently in Chautauqua, which in the off-season isn't influenced by ordinary "city" lights. There is something so unspoiled about a night sky illuminated only by the natural light of the moon and the stars.

IntangibleArts said...

Great observations. Tucson was a great town for the lack of light-pollution, due to some city ordinance limiting the use of street lights... The glow interfered with the nearby observatory (the one where they discovered Pluto, if that memory is accurate). This of course made for some STELLAR camping up Mt.Bigelow north of town, in the Catalinas...

Here in DC of course, it's a bit tougher. That photo is near 7th & H Streets, isn't it? You've seen how obscenely well-lit that block is at night? Seems overkill-ish.

Rebecca Clayton said...

I've lived where the nights were dark most of my life, but I didn't appreciate it until I lived in D.C.

Here's something I learned about night since I moved to Droop Mountain: The (mountain) lions and the bears, and the coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, possums and foxes are active for a couple of hours after sundown, and again before sunrise. They lounge and nap through midnight, mirroring the daytime animals that snooze at midday, and forage at morning and evening. Everyone is quiet in the middle of the night.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

You paint such an evocative picture of descending winter - quite, quite beautiful.
I absolutely love this second picture - what colours - looks like it should be a tapestry.

Reya Mellicker said...

Rebecca, how cool! You know the best stuff.

Thank you Ms. Vanilla.

The top pic was taken on K Street somewhere between 20th and 7th ... don't remember which block. Love those dragons, though.

When I think about my old age (impending! yikes!) one thing I'd really like to have in abundance is stars.

Steve said...

I miss the stars too! It's amazing how few places one can see them anymore. I'm not sure we can even appreciate the light of a full moon, with all the streetlights for competition.

It is amazing how early it gets dark now!

kimy said...

wonderful words on the season of descending darkness. the approach to winter solstice is such a magical time period

love the thought of shadows caused by the brightness of stars!

Ulysses said...

Bears eh? Have you been peeking?

Reya Mellicker said...

Ulysses I wrote that before I read your story. Really!!

lettuce said...

reya your photos get better and better


Tovah said...

I just came across this photo. It is truly stunning. I ADORE your work! Happy belated and miss you.