As the third in a series of cross-posts with the University of Arizona’s Institute of the Environment’s Proximities, Terrain.org features a conversation between environmental writers and Terrain.org contributors Paul Bogard and Christopher Cokinos.
Paul will be at the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory, speaking about his new book, The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, on Monday, November 18, at 7:30 pm.
Paul: I remember I was up in Quebec at the Mont Megantic National Park, and one of the folks there said to me that closing off our view of the universe isn’t the worst thing we’re doing environmentally, but it is symbolic of the worst things we’re doing. I think he’s right—we are losing or have lost our connection to the surrounding universe by polluting the sky with wasted light. And this disconnection from the rest of creation reflects the disconnected way we live these days. And when we live disconnected from the universe, from the rest of creation, from the environment, why would we care about it? That’s one issue. The other is that we are tempted to imagine that we are the most important game in town. That human beings—and maybe especially human beings like us—are the most important concern. That the world revolves around us. When you’re standing under a naturally dark night sky, with the Milky Way bending from one horizon to the other, those kinds of misconceptions have an opportunity to fade away.
Chris: I agree, Paul. It’s always amazing to be in the company of pure urbanites who haven’t seen or have forgotten their childhood views of a dark night sky. They’re rightly astonished. I wonder sometimes if there isn’t something going on that has to do with our evolving as a species that had to spend a lot of time looking at the ground to get food—small game, seeds, nuts, fruit. Then at night all those seeds of light up there, like some sort of sustenance for the psyche. A real night sky—a dark one—must activate endorphins or some other lovely brain chemistry… more so than computer-generated CGI stars…
Christopher Cokinos is the author of The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of Shooting Stars (Tarcher/Penguin) and Bodies, of the Holocene (Truman) and is working on several projects right now: a poetry collection based on the paintings of Rene Magritte, a natural history of North American wild cats and an article on the centennial of the death of the last passenger pigeon. He teaches at the University of Arizona. View recent poetry in Terrain.org.
Aurora borealis photo by John A. Davis, courtesy Shutterstock.