There are many wondrous things we would probably rediscover, or discover for the first time generationally, if we were to go slow. Occasionally I chide myself for rushing non stop and piling on the multiple tasks in the interest of efficiency and “lots to do”, and try to remember to look up, at the clouds, at the treetops and at the stars. Tilting my head away from the ground is easiest way for me to literally open up to new perspectives. Usually I see something worth stopping for.
Last week the Perseid shower blew by, and for about a second I actually thought about stealing away at midnight to find a dark spot from which to catch sight of shooting stars. I have done so a couple of times in my life, but I never really had the patience to stick it out for the prime viewing time of 2am. Still, the memory of those shooting stars — as I pulled the curtains for the night from a window in Trieste, during a summer night in Vermont, bundled in fleece during an August night in Wilsonville, Oregon — make me feel like a child again, or a natural-state primitive man, marveling at the mysterious power of the universe.
It would be a really good exercise in slow to take a day to sit and watch it get dark, and then wait for the stars. When was the last time I did that? I can remember watching it get light at least a few times in college. Of course most of the time day turns to night before my eyes, but I’m not usually paying attention.
The New Yorker has a touching article in the August 20 issue, by David Owen, about a little known but exciting trend in U.S. cities to minimize light pollution. The purpose is not just to save lots of money and energy, but to design night lighting so that it is the least disruptive to enjoying the experience of dark and all it entails. Part of that means restoring some places to a state of dark similar to that which existed before artificial light — a state which allowed Galileo to see the Milky Way, Saturn, Jupiter and Venus with weak telescopes or even the naked eye.
We should save our dark areas for the same reason we preserve wilderness. Owen talks about the International Dark Sky Association and quotes a founder saying “We’re sort of a nighttime Sierra Club.”
What a wonderful idea. The fact is, lighting can be reduced without sacrificing safety, and the benefits could extend to giving kids something other than a computer screen to look at. If we can manage to create the habit to take it slow.