Light Pollution

The wondrous night sky
May not be obscured from you and I,
But there are those
Who couldn’t tell a star from their nose!

So savour the sacred sight
Of those merry twinkles in the night;
And wherever you are,
Tie a wish to every shooting star.

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When I was travelling in New Zealand five long years ago I was told a story that I will never forget: a tour guide was taking a couple on a kayaking trip along the coast of Abel Tasman National Park, at the northern edge of the South Island. To give you an idea of how clear the night sky would be, the largest city in the area is Nelson (population 60,000), which is about 100 miles away.

Consider also that they were travelling around the edge of an 87 square mile park filled with nothing but nature and I think you might have a textbook definition of “crystal clear” – I’m not sure which textbook holds that particular definition, but that is a matter for another time.
The couple on this little adventure were from Seoul, city of oh, a little over ten million people. I believe they were on their honeymoon and this was their first time outside of the big city. On the very first night of the trip, they set up camp on an empty beach and the guide started a small fire to cook dinner over, which was probably the only light within fifty miles.
As they sat around the fire the couple were completely silent, their heads frozen at an upward angle. The guide, wondering if something was wrong, if perhaps he had somehow unintentionally offended them, asked if everything was alright.
Of course it was, they replied. They had simply never seen a star before.
Think about that for a moment. Imagine going your first twenty or thirty years, or even your whole life, without seeing a star, singular. Not stars, not a constellation, but only ever seeing a blank slate every time you looked towards the heavens. Or perhaps you wouldn’t even look up if there was nothing there to see?
And they were not just seeing any patch of sky that night, I can attest to that. I found myself one evening in a remote corner of New Zealand, surrounded by national parks and far from a city of any real size. Along with a small group of backpackers, I went looking for glow worms along a small stream in the woods behind the hostel. As we emerged from the trees after a surprisingly successful search, we looked up and fell silent.
I swear you couldn’t fit a pin between any two stars. There was more white than black – I have never seen so many stars in the sky, it was full to bursting.
I know how powerful an effect that sight had on me. I can’t imagine how that couple from Seoul felt, confronted by such an extravagant display after a lifetime of nothing.

The End

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