Once There Was Night

You cannot find silence anymore, nor can you find the night.

Once there was such a thing as quiet in the countryside, and midnight skies, dusted with silver chips, that stretched from horizon to horizon. But no more. Drive where you will, mile after mile, you cannot escape the taint of man-made light or the sounds of an obtrusive and increasingly uncivilized civilization. The world is noisy, and there is no respite from the noise, nor is the night any longer truly night. No more can you look up and gaze into infinity; the street lights, the farm lights, the headlights, and the glow of distant towns will not let you. We are so well-lit that we can no longer see.

The reality of what we have lost came crashing in on me tonight as I drove out in search of a place to watch the Perseids meteor shower, which as I write is at its peak.

I could not find a suitable location. I am not saying I couldn’t find a place where I could see meteors. Several spots afforded me a decent view of the sky. What I could not find was a place where I felt truly by myself, a place where I could wrap myself in the mystery of a heavens not shrouded with light pollution and contemplate the beauty of the night in silence.

On a gravel road that dropped south from 108th Street, I thought for a moment that I had found a good place to view the Perseids. Parking on the side next to the tall August corn, I got out of my car to watch for shooting stars. The only lights were single farm lights half a mile down the road in either direction. Overhead, the luminous ribbon of the Milky Way wove through a crowd of stars. This location would do.

Then I heard it. Someone was blaring rock music down the road from me. But where? It sounded like it was coming from only a couple hundred feet away, but the source had to be a long way off. Ah, what did it matter? This was crazy. I had driven out into the farmlands in search of darkness and silence, but the noise had found me anyway.

A short while later, I stood by my car at another spot near my town’s athletic fields. I was pleasantly surprised at just how dark–relatively dark, that is–my new location was. A meteor trickled across the east. A dimmer one scratched the sky for half a second, now there, now gone. But what the heck … where was that music coming from? Oh, for crying out loud. Once again I was parked at a place far from houses, and yet it sounded like a bloody band was standing out in the field nearby playing a concert. And now a jet came roaring in toward the airport … and my ears opened up to the sounds of traffic on the nearby roads … nuts. Forget it. I had seen a few meteors and that was enough. I hopped back in my car and headed home.

Now here I am, finishing this post. My wall clock reads 1:17 a.m. A while ago, I could hear voices outside my apartment, but those are gone, and I am left with only the faint susurration of traffic on M-37 and the flesh-colored glow of the parking lot lights.

I could do without them shining through my window. Besides ruining my lightning photos from the balcony when storms pass over, they steal the night. From a security standpoint, I understand the wisdom of having the lights, but I don’t like them. I wish I could get the night back.

Today, fewer people people know what I mean. But I haven’t forgotten.

Once there was night. There still is in some places. You have to drive far north to find it in Michigan, but it’s there to be found. I just wish it was here.

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  1. Jeff Duda says:

    Sound can travel much farther at nights when there is a strong inversion above the surface. I had a similar experience last night. Apparently there was some outdoor rock concert going on in downtown Norman…a good 1-2 miles away from me. I could hear it as clear as day at times.

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