Many of us in the rural West are used to dark skies and bright stars, but in urban areas around the world, night is not as black as it once was. Paul Bogard has compiled twenty nine essays by environmental writers and a few scientists to explore the ways we experience dark and why we need it: to feel in touch with a wild sky that may otherwise be lost. Many of the writers are reminded of the beauty — and threat — of darkness by those younger than them. Kathleen Dean Moore relates a friend’s story of taking her niece to a planetarium and her niece’s comment: “did you know a long time ago, people could really see stars like this?” Laurie Kutchins writes of her three-year-old daughter’s desire to go outside their Wyoming cabin to see the stars: “When she looks up, the Milky Way will be a giant spill, a long wide band down a skunk’s back” (42). Other writers see night as a time of solitude. Jennifer H. Westerman walks her dark house, waiting for her daughter to be born. Scott Russell Sanders confronts his midnight dread: “So where am I to turn in these unlocked hours before dawn?” (187).
Still other pieces, like David Gessner’s “Trespassing on Night,” take on issues of community. Gessner writes of a Cape Cod neighbor’s desire to light the nearby beach and arguments over regional law that eventually keep the neighbor’s lights inside his own house. Many writers ask to whom the night belongs. The consensus is everyone. In the coda, astronomer Christian Luginbuhl reminds us that “Nobody ever seems to make the mistake of thinking that we protect Yellowstone or Grand Canyon just for geologists and rockhounds” (199).
Luginbuhl’s informative coda comes as a welcome change after too many similar personal accounts of the importance of bright stars and black sky. Although the book’s five sections organize the many short pieces, the introductions seem didactic, and the pieces themselves are too often alike; nevertheless, Let There Be Night is a provocative and necessary book in an age where activism and education are essential to keeping the night dark.
Let There Be Night
Ed. Paul Bogart
218 pages, softcover: $21.95
University of Nevada Press, 2008