Civilization and My Night Skies

Night Sky over Sky Island

Chapter 6

The mark of the civilization was now becoming more obvious. I was hiking below large homes propped up on hills so the residents could boost their ego knowing that people were talking about their house. It didn’t matter if people were complaining about how their house ruins the view, they just wanted the attention, otherwise they wouldn’t have put their houses in such noticeable locations. These people have money and damn it, the whole world should know!

Cars were also seen humming up and down a nearby highway that popped out from behind a hill. Planes were constantly rumbling through the sky on their way to and from Tucson. After spending a week in wilderness, and being so far south in the country that there was literally no air noise, I was all of a sudden having mixed feelings. My euphoria was now drowning in the sounds of modern technology and travel.

It was still beautiful nonetheless thanks to the land I was hiking through benefitting from some protection. It was still a completely legitimate desert. The coyotes would still howl at night. The thorns would still prick me. The rattlesnakes would still kill me. It’s a tricky balance we’re up against, trying to keep land protected from the seemingly endless urban sprawl of a population multiplying out of control.

I setup camp for that night between an obscure side highway and I-10. I could hear the endless interstate noise in the distance. Every now and then, I heard the rumbling of a freight train just to the north of the traffic artery.

Sunrise over Saguaro Cactus

I put up my tent in what I thought was a nice secluded area. As I stood next to my tent, admiring the landscape and eating a dry dinner, a person walked by on what was apparently another trail just a few dozen yards away. Happy to see another person, I waved and smiled. They hastily turned their attention away from me and kept walking, not wanting to engage with someone that could have been homeless and/or clearly hostile.

I got into my tent shortly thereafter to unwind for the day. I kept the rain fly off since the weather was so pleasant. I noticed another couple using the other trail. As is customary for people with way too much going on in their lives, they kept their heads down the entire time and never even noticed me. I was definitely back in civilization.

This was reiterated by the constant hum of I-10 just a few miles away and the increase of unnatural light at night coming from Tuscon just a few dozen miles away. "But safety! We need light at night!" So scream the fearful who have both not yet realized that glare makes it harder to see, and that there is so much more to appreciate in darkness than fear.

I’m not for crime. I’m simply for smarter lighting. Criminals use glare to their advantage. While you’re blinded by a bright light shining in your eyes, they’re hiding in a shadow, often right beneath your nose, and you can’t see them because you’ve put up so many glare bombs that you’ve literally blinded yourself to anything in shade. Simply shield the light and point it downward, where it’s needed, and you’ve leveled the playing field. Now you can see if someone’s lurking around acting suspicious.

The continued misuse of light at night produces such horrible skyglow that even the wildlife get confused with what time of day it is. It’s no wonder people develop sleep disorders living in the city, even when that city has decent lighting ordinances, such as Tucson. And these are just a smattering of the practical reasons.

There’s a substantial population out there that doesn’t even know what a real night sky is. These people are completely oblivious to the inspiration and wonder that I’ve been fortunate enough to experience thus far on the trail being out in the darkness completely alone. "How scary!" most will think. A rare few others, however, will think, "How marvelous!"

Moon in Twilight Sunset

Of course when most people go outside at night, especially out into the middle of nowhere (which is by far the best place to experience a proper night sky), they immediately try to reestablish a certain level of comfort by turning on lights and blaring music. After all, why go out into the middle of nowhere if you can’t bring modern technology with you? People have become so afraid to leave their confined comfort of commercial development that they completely miss the point of being in the middle of nowhere. For me, leaving the wilderness and approaching civilization was a trough in the wave of anticipated excitement. "Well yeah, but you’re also crazy and hiking through an entire state," one might retort. Touché.

And yet, therein lies the struggle. There’s no willingness to let go on their part. No motivation to discover something new. No interest in looking up in complete darkness and silence. No desire to be alone under thousands of guiding lights, winking compliments and assurances. To hear the nocturnal critters chattering undisturbed with each other. To experience the liberation of constant road noise, air noise, and mind noise. To hear a stillness in the air that will never be duplicated under sunlight. To experience a calmness that only a night sky in the middle of nowhere can provide. To see through a natural night vision that’s evolved in every human body that’s long been forgotten by most. To see your shadow on a moonless night created simply from starlight. To look up at thousands of glowing pieces of yourself. To know that and then feel whichever god you pray to assuring you that there is more than enough love for you and every living being on this tiny little planet of ours. To understand the scale of where we are in the universe like never before. To know how precious everything we’ve created on our tiny spaceship we call home really is. To radiate appreciation for all the night critters, your families, your friends, your enemies, the strangers. To realize no human on Earth can fathom the distance that you are staring into. To know you’re only staring into a fraction of the universe that’s so small, most wouldn’t even bother to write that value down if it were anything else. To see, hear, feel, and even smell infinite inspiration and creativity whirling through every pore of your body. And to know and feel all of that in one simple breath while looking up at a true night sky.

I think that’s worth stepping out of a comfort zone for. Criminals aren’t out hiding in shadows in the middle of nowhere. There’s nothing there for them. They’re in the city looking for prey. The only danger under a true night sky is a fearful imagination. When provoked, it can lead to packing up from the remote reaches of rural regions and leaving for the paradoxically confusing wont of daylight at nighttime.

A true night sky in the middle of nowhere was not my environment tonight. I was amidst city folk masked in a rural setting. Road noise groaned consistently in the distance. Tucson was on the western horizon, perpetuating a sunset that would never set. Call me crazy, but I missed being in the middle of nowhere alone under a night sky.

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