Pictured Above: The dark sky above an East End railroad overpass. | Rob DeL Images photo
by Bob Deluca
As a kid growing up in the hills of Connecticut, I once heard about the belief that the night stars were our ancestors and loved ones looking down on us, and that image has stayed with me to this day. I also now realize how lucky I was to live in a place where peering into the Milky Way, figuring out the constellations, setting up telescopes, searching for satellites and hoping to see Skylab were just regular parts of growing up.
I never became much of an expert, but looking back, I can clearly recall sharing the wonder of stars and our night sky with my family, friends, a few girlfriends, and more recently, my own kids. When my daughter was small and we lost a wonderful family pet, we both took comfort in contemplating the idea that this beloved family member might still be found somewhere in the watchful beauty and mystery of our night sky. That moment took me right back in my own childhood, but this time the night sky was here on the East End, and the starlight was once again my familiar and comforting friend.
Like so many places, the rural character of eastern Long Island has been butting up against the increasingly built environment for decades, and this unending tension is slowly transforming our beautiful and once rugged East End into more and more of a metropolitan suburb. Many of the changes like traffic, water quality problems, habitat loss and urbanization are fairly well understood. Highly visible but subtle changes, like those in our night sky, are more pernicious and creeping in nature.
In fact, if you come from an area where the visible night sky has long ago been obliterated by commercial, residential or street lighting, you might not even notice what has been lost and never realize what you might be missing, or how your own actions can inadvertently contribute to loss of starlight and all that it can provide.
Thankfully, many people on the East End and around the world have come together to raise awareness about the many wonders of our night sky, including the International Dark Sky Association, which is working around the globe to protect the night sky for future generations.
Several years ago, I met and had the chance to work with East Hampton’s own Susan Harder, whose renowned advocacy has played a critical role in advancing better “dark sky” lighting design and requirements all across our region. These requirements have improved the protection of our night sky, particularly for new development proposals, but the pace of new and expanding development still presents a major challenge for the future. This demands our attention.
Like so many important initiatives, there is an ever present need to keep raising awareness, getting the message out, and searching for better and more creative ways to protect and even restore the beautiful night sky that is part of the character and natural fabric of our region. So, I was extremely excited to learn about a new and developing coalition that has recently come together in support of our visible night sky and all the measures we can all take as individuals, businesses and organizations to protect this vulnerable natural wonder.
Started just a few months back in Southold Town, the North Fork Dark Sky Coalition (northforkdarksky.org) is an affiliation of civic, environmental, astronomical and business groups who have united in their shared concern for the preservation of our local night sky. Though focused on the North Fork, the coalition’s efforts and information have value for the entire East End.
The coalition has recently begun its work of getting the message out about the beauty and importance of our starlit nights, the requirements and options that presently exist for better “dark sky” and “fully shielded” lighting, and the joy that can come from simply finding the time to experience a window into the billions of stars that light up our universe.
In a world so often defined by so many great challenges, and so much suffering, I believe the wonder, beauty and eternity of our night sky still stands as a perpetual beacon of hope, inspiration, inquiry and, maybe most of all, a magical place where time, life, memories and dreams somehow coexist to give us inspiration for all the things we humans have to endure.
International Dark Sky Week is April 5 through April 12. Why not turn off those outside lights and see what wonders the night sky holds for you!
Bob DeLuca is the President of Group for the East End and a member of the North Fork Dark Sky Coalition.