Beyond the Glare and the Blare

Once, people could bathe in starlight and listen to snow fall. Now the quest to renew darkness and silence is growing.

MJ
Skyscrapers at night

Credit: PhotoDisc, Inc

When the North American power grid faltered last summer, millions of people took to the streets—not to loot or protest, but to gaze, astonished, at the night sky. For a few August evenings, in eight states and a province, our postmodern population knew true darkness and real quiet. Reporters seeking tales of horror and hardship often heard about the firmament instead:

"I could see the stars very clearly, which was rare, and magical."

"Stars like you've never seen in your life. Fascinating and terrifying at the same time."

"No neon, no street-lights, no apartment lights. Peaceful."

"The whole neighborhood sat talking by candlelight, or just listened to the crickets."

"We should have power outages more often."

Perhaps it shouldn't take an international power cut to let us rediscover starlight and quiet.

Maybe such things are, in fact, social capital. A public investment. A cultural heritage. Even a civil right. Or so the advocates for a darker, stiller existence increasingly argue. Since the late 1980s, a global patchwork of individuals and organizations has strived to preserve night and quiet. Some focus on neighborhoods, others on nations; all hope to save the celestial and aural commons from unwanted intrusion, in the belief that darkness and silence are sadly endangered conditions in our increasingly crowded, noisy world. To advance these overlapping causes, fans of tranquility turn to legal face-offs and Internet lobbying, policy and poetry.

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