Acquainted with the Night


Light from Sunday Paper on Vimeo.

This poetic video, shot in my own overlit hometown, likely expresses the filmmakers ideas about wasting electricity. But like all good art it has multiple interpretations. I’m going to suggest that it shows how electric lighting has stolen the gift of night, robbing us of our night skies and peaceful sleep.

There’s a large body of evidence that artificial light plays havoc with our sleep patterns, health and psychological well being, to say nothing of its detrimental effect on wildlife. And then there’s that night sky. You can actually count the number of stars in the sky in Los Angeles.

Thankfully this is one of the issues that we can help change on the home level. Other than one small LED light at the bottom of our entrance stairs we have no landscape lighting (though Mrs. Homegrown did sneak a string of Christmas lights past my bah-humbug filter). We can also take measures to darken our bedrooms at night. While this may at first seem like tin foil hat talk, consider that the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified night shift work as a carcinogen.

Several years ago I heard a psychologist speak eloquently on the need for dark nights (unfortunately I can’t remember his name). He proposed getting a small town do a trial period of shutting all their lights out at night to see how it would change the well being of the town’s inhabitants. It’s a great idea. So let’s get on it. I’d like to think we can experiment with returning night to our towns and cities before that dinosaur juice peaks out.

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12 Comments

  1. A beautiful idea with limited applications for cities. In our urban neighborhood, lack of a working streetlight gave us seven slashed tires. Those ruined tires were the only reason, after two years of pleading, that we finally got the light fixed. I agree with everything you say here. I have blackout curtains so I can sleep, but we don’t all get to live in safe-enough neighborhoods for this idea to work.

  2. We live in a pretty rural area, but we have acquired a couple of neighbors who feel that they must have floodlights on all night to keep away whomever it is that they imagine is lurking about in the woods. It’s actually mostly raccoons who are probably unimpressed by floodlights. (Neighbors are originally city people and are thus more used to light at night.) I have installed light-blocking shades on the bedroom windows, but I mourn the loss of having unobstructed windows and fresh air in the summer, as well as the enjoyment of waking up as the sun rises. I can’t help feeling as if my room were a tomb when I open the door in the morning and realize that the rest of the world is already light.

  3. This is a neat video, really lovely and poetic.

    With it, you raise valid concerns about light and darkness. There are, of course, the safety issues of being able to navigate in the dark, but the level of illumination of our towns goes way beyond the basics.

    We have to get quite far out of our medium sized town to get a good look at the stars.

  4. There’s a cul-de-sac in Echo Park w/ a low hanging street light. In the 80s and into the 90s, the Hispanic gang in Echo Park loved to smash the light, so they can hang out under cover of darkness. Neighbors complained, and eventually got the city to put up a standard street light, making it harder for the gangsters to vandalize and put out. With the cul-de-sac well lit, the gangsters decided to move and hang out on the hills, becoming a nuisance to others, but giving reprieve to our cul-de-sac.

  5. My family has a camp in the Adirondacks, far from any city. The night sky on a clear night is absolutely breathtaking. People who have lived in or near metropolitan areas their whole lives have no idea how many stars are up there. It’s just astounding. No wonder the ancients had names and tales about the constellations. The night sky surely would have been a major part of their lives. So sad that it’s missing from ours.

  6. Light pollution ruins my view of the stars in my small town. I really hate that I cannot go out and view the stars on a whim.

    Light at night has a negative effect on the trees and shrubs that are affected. I cannot remember where. It is probably in my list of 10,000 favorite.

    At one time I slept with lights on inside and outside. When I was having serious sleep issues, I gave up caffeine, started taking melatonin, and slept in total darkness. My sleep issues have been, for the most part, been greatly reduced. Plus, eight less bulbs are used all night.I was fearful in the safest neighborhood around. I got over it.I cherish the dark.

    The video was frightening.

  7. Early in our adventure into self-sufficiency, the dood and I decided we were going to be hitting the hay when the sky gets dark, and arising when it becomes light again. The problem was that at that time, I needed to get up at 3:45am each morning just to make it possible to commute to work and get there by 6:15. And he was working a craptastic schedule that ensured he’d be coming home for dinner long after dark had arrived. Like say 10pm. I don’t know how we juggled that for three years without imploding, to be honest.

    Now we’re able to keep normal hours. Dark = bed time. Light = wakeful hours. It has been a very tough transition, but it is so much healthier. Once again, our critters set the best example. The cats and the chickens both.

  8. the wife and I onced witnessed a rape by a darkened street corner. I and some other motorists jumped out to help and the person ran off. Luckily, she had just been wrestled to the ground, and we stopped an actual rape. She was care giver, walking home from work at around 1am.

    for those complaining about seeing the stars and sleeping soundly at nite, don’t you think some people actually owe their safety on a nightly basis from these lights? Maybe this is a class or income issue, but for women (and men) working crappy hours w/out cars, their very safety rests on these lights.

  9. For those mentioning that street lights are needed in many urban areas, the International Dark Sky Association lists outdoor lighting that has been approved by them. Typically it’s going to be lights that focus the light down (where it’s needed) rather than scattering it every which way (and into the sky).
    http://www.darksky.org/outdoor-lighting

  10. Well, I can’t argue against safety in cities. Luckily, we live in the middle of nowhere, with no neighbors for a mile or more in any direction, so the only lights out here are the ones we turn on. The stars and northern lights are amazing, and we definitely sleep better than we did when we lived in town.

  11. Living in a rural area the night sky, and darkness are enjoyed, but unfortunately many who move out to the country flood their yards with light.I notice these same people are the ones that give their kids quads to race about on, disturbing the nature around them, and become a annoyance.
    Many soon find themselves unwelcome in the community they have moved to without any understanding of why.

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