Duck Soup: Dark Enough to See

The stars are brighter in wild places. Perhaps thoughts are clearer as well, though that is a personal bias and not the sort of phenomenon vulnerable to scientific inquiry. Far from glaring electric signs, street lights, billboards, beacons and headlights the night is different. The Milky Way washes the sky and a thousand diamond flares become a million. I live on a rural ridge. Visitors from the city are often amazed when they step out on my deck after dark. With only a dozen or so porch lamps and security lights visible in the valley below, the closest at least a mile distant, the stars seem clear and the sky black. It is easy for me to forget how much my view has been clouded by the electric fog all around. Easy, that is, until I go someplace deeper and richer and further from civilization's visual noise.Not long ago night found me in the relative seclusion of a quiet beach on a sleepy bay. I looked up to see the firmament I remember from my childhood and wanted to cry for all that has been lost. The constellations are still there, the figures of Greek or Native American myth. It is our vision that has dimmed. There are stars between the stars I see at home, and stars between those as well. I was filled again with wonder at the infinite splendor that surrounds us, and devastated by our rush to replace the blackness with shades of grey.Security lights. Ha. As if light provided any security at all. Put a garish orangey pink fire on a totem pole in your driveway and you will be safe! The boogeyman won't get you! More news at eleven. Tales of murder and mayhem and the vain hope that it will all go away if we just get rid of the darkness. A billion watts later, do you feel more secure? Street lights and more street lights, to make streets safe. Stand a pole up every mile, every half mile, every quarter, every corner, everywhere. Light makes everyone sane and sober. Maniacs are creatures of shadow. You will make it home in one piece because the lights are on. Count billboards illuminated by carbon arc beacons, one after another down the highway berm. Bright and bright and brighter. Buy me. Stop here. Eat this. Consume and consume as we consume the sky. Forget your sense of wonder at the marvel of the universe, the real stars are on TV. Laugh and laugh and forget the fear. More news at eleven. Tales of murder and mayhem and the vain hope that it will all go away if we just get rid of the darkness. It is no wonder the gods feel forgotten in the brightness that surrounds us. Our smallness is forgotten, too. We are big and bright and we can make the stars disappear. Everything that matters is here and now and on the screen. The bright screen with bright smiles and problems that all resolve in a half hour, or ninety minutes for serious drama. Yes, it is an electric age. The lights reflect on clouds of soot from generator stacks. Rivers are stopped and turbined, their juice diverted to electrify the streets. Nuclear stations pump it up, pump it up, and keep piling on the radioactive waste, but still no solution in sight. Forget about nuclear disposal, it will be solved, because we are powerful. Powerful enough to take away the darkness, to hide the stars, to hide the fear, to hide from God.But the problems that can't be solved between ads and canned laughter on a sitcom stage are still there, in the dusk. The atmosphere is changing, as are the oceans and rivers and deserts. Spent nuclear fuel lurks in temporary facilities awaiting a disposal fix that may never come. And who we are, where we are from and where we are bound, the riddles of the ages, are still adrift in the murky sea of unconscious. Turn on every light in the world, hide the stars, hide the night, but the big ones are still waiting. On that quiet beach far from the city and far from my home I heard the stars sing. We cannot change the universe. The universe changes us. The light of a million-billion watts pales before the light of a trillion suns.

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