We self isolated for two weeks after returning from Houston. Soon everyone around was in a similar boat due to the covid-19 lockdown. Walking in the late evening darkness has been very safe as there are few people around, mostly odd dog walkers, as indeed we are.
Remarkable is the silence, just the odd car or delivery van from time to time. Even the nearby M6 is mostly quiet. It seems bizarre to be able to walk along the middle of what is normally a busy main road.
Owls seem to hoot more frequently on the edges of town. Several hedgehogs have been in evidence, not normally seen. I guess the brave ones are usually soon flattened by traffic.
We have returned to the conditions of the days before mass motor traffic, maybe the 1950s or even earlier in this part of the world.
I have a vibrant memory of Sunday evenings in the 1950s, walking home after visiting grandparents in the nearby village. We walked on the pavement in almost complete darkness through the countryside. The stars were so bright, and my dad pointed out the common constellations (the Plough/Big Dipper, Orion…) and the Milky Way.
There were street lamps, still gas powered in those days. They cast small oases of light in the pervading darkness, an essential aid when the Moon was not up. As we navigated from oasis to oasis, they gave a feeling of security.
In later decades street lights became ever brighter, until more recently people realised that this over-brightness was polluting any chance of being aware of the majesty of the night sky – the pervading influence for all earlier human generations. So, they’ve become more subdued and direct light downwards rather than everywhere. On our residential estate there’s now a small sense of those earlier oases of light in the darkness – although the power of modern leds is inevitably much stronger than the old gas lamps.
But there’s a new kid on the block: a proliferation of lighting from residential houses, notably porch lights, and lights at the end of the drive. Some throw stronger light than the actual street lighting. My senses are repelled by this unnecessary brightness and the accompanying waste of energy. Why? When a cheap sensor could turn the light on only when needed. If every house did the same we would rarely experience the darkness of night.
We need to make friends with the darkness, it is as much a part of life as the light. Only then do we and our children see those gems in the sky, perhaps inspiring an interest in astronomy or its twin astrology.
Human eyes are actually very good at seeing in low light conditions. So please can we turn those lights out, except when needed.
And make friends with the dusk, one of the truly magical parts of the day (I’m sure the dawn is also, but I rarely make it.)
Featured image of gas lamp by Tulane Public Relations (Uploaded by AlbertHerring), via Wikimedia Commons
Image of The Milky Way by John Fowler, via Wikimedia Commons