Stars above politics

It’s refreshing each August to hear people talk about looking up at the stars instead of arguing about politics and other maladies. All that talk about politics tends to drive folks to look down around their feet after a while.

The reports that a meteor shower was a big enough deal that it took so many momentarily away from all that television and Internet talk about who’s the worse political liar and who can lay out the grandest promises that can never be met. I’d guess that most people would rather see the meteoric version of falling stars than the political version of falling stars.

I can’t say for sure how much people out here in the northern Driftless Area tend to look at the stars – or, for that matter, the daytime sky – on a regular basis. But I suspect it’s more than the average folks from sea to shining sea who tend to look up.

We generally don’t need a meteor shower to get us to look at the stars in these parts, even if the computer chatter tells us the meteor show has a fancy name like Perseid or that it’s touted to be one of the most grand meteor showers that we’ll see in many years or, as one person wrote it’s among “the most reliably impressive celestial events.” The reason for that is, if we don’t have our yard light burning to otherwise detract from the sky, we get to see impressive celestial events nearly every night that clouds don’t blanket us from the heavens.

A simple walk from the machine shed to the house might otherwise take only a few seconds, but those seconds turn into minutes and even hours when we catch a glimpse of the twinkling night sky highlighted by the Milky Way cream stretching from horizon to horizon. We stand there, lost in the realization that the light we see exploded from those stars hundreds and even thousands of years before it landed on this Trempealeau County farmstead. We look in wonder that some of those stars no longer exist, their light and universes entering new realms of darkness during the many light-years between us.

And, we get to see views of “the most reliably impressive celestial events” in far more detail than do the folks who live in territories of the more urban ilk.

That sky is important to me, and I’m fairly sure it’s more important to most people than they might know or admit.

An old friend asked a while ago to name a few things I think are most important to preserve if my curmudgeonly thinking could be in charge of things. The night sky ranks right at the top of that list, along with our water supply, soil and oxygen-giving trees.

I realized many years ago that plenty of people don’t share my worries about any of those things – especially about maintaining our ability to see the stars. Maybe there’s an instinctual fear of darkness but, for some reason, many people seem to want to keep lights shining brighter to blot out what can best be seen during night’s natural darkness.

Light is safety, many people tell me, and there was a time in my youth when I’d tend to agree. Darkness brings fear.

Perhaps compromises are available.

Maybe we can have city streets, parking lots and display lots that have downward-shining dimmed lights brighten only through motion-sensors.

Maybe the farm security yard-lights that burn all night could be replaced by motion-sensing lights and old-fashioned switch-operated yard-lights.

Maybe we can have billboard advertising that only is lit early in the night.

I don’t know that keeping the night sky as pristine as we can see it on the old homestead out here on Eimon Ridge is as important to other people as it is to some of us. Those of us who like to gaze at the sky in the most pure way possible will find our spots in places such as Eimon Ridge and in some of the other most rural of routes along the northern Driftless Area’s ridges and valleys. We’ll do that gazing with the knowledge that there are a handful of other places in the world where light doesn’t hamper the view even as much as it does here.

Perhaps an incentive for keeping the stars shining brightly above us is remembering what a respite a little star-gazing can give us from this season of continuous political diatribe.

— Scott Schultz

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