I step outside regularly in the dark evening hours of winter.
I enjoy the crisp air, my breath twisting with the breeze.
Orion the Hunter looks down from his celestial home this time of the year. He is easy to identify even for the novice stargazer.
The Big Dipper, the North Star, the Seven Sisters are all familiar this time of year; and the Milky Way paints the sky between them.
I realize I’m lucky. While I can readily see the Milky Way from my secluded home, many Botetourt residents can only imagine it from theirs.
A friend in the Troutville/Daleville area is one of those folks.
We were talking about that during the week between Christmas and the New Year— that he has to imagine the Milky Way from his home because of light pollution.
Of particular concern were two “dusk-to-dawn” lights that neighbors have. I wondered if it was “light trespassing” if he’s bothered by those two night lights when they are able to cast shadows— one in his bedroom and the other in another room from several hundred yards away.
Again, to being lucky. My closest neighbor is a couple hundred yards away. Those folks, and the other two families who pass my house on the way home, are like me. They appreciate the dark and have not sullied our “neighborhood” with dusk-to-dawn lights.
Some years ago, another friend and I were discussing the lights you can see in the distance from his rural home. He finds them loathsome, I learned.
The idea that they provide some sort of security in a rural setting had him stumped. “I know where my stuff is. Why would I want to light it up for some crook to steal?” he asked.
Amateur astronomer John Goss and his wife Genevieve have been longtime advocates for reducing the impact of artificial lights on the night sky in Botetourt and other communities.
To a certain extent, you can thank the couple for their efforts to have the county incorporate directional lighting into county ordinances for new commercial and industrial ventures. That is, light that’s directed to the ground and does not pollute the sky.
John held a workshop on lighting and the night sky in one of the Backyard Botetourt presentations— this one in December.
One of the projects he mentioned is the Dark Skies initiative.
In October, the Gosses helped with The Dark Sky Summit at Douthat State Park in an effort to involve the broader community in the possibility of having the park and areas around it designated a Dark Sky site.
As it turns out, Dark Skies stimulate tourism by attracting outdoor recreation enthusiasts and science educators.
But protecting and promoting dark skies in a light-polluted world takes effort— private and public.
As it turns out, a park like Douthat could possibly be certified as a Dark Sky park by the International Dark-Sky Association. There’s only one in Virginia now— Staunton River State Park.
There’s no problem telling where Roanoke and Lynchburg are by gazing into the night sky from just about any location in Botetourt. The city lights drown out the darkness around them. On a smaller scale, so do the lights from the Exit 150 area, Daleville, Troutville, Buchanan and even the small town of Fincastle.
The Gosses’ efforts to reduce light pollution are near a one-light-at-time level. His Backyard Botetourt presentation showed individual lights in the community that could easily be shielded so the light is cast down where it would do the most good rather than see it drift off into the night sky where it is wasted— along with the energy required to burn the bulb.
Even dusk-to-dawn lights can be better utilized to provide “security” rather than the annoyance so many cause neighbors.
Now, if folks would just practice directional lighting, there may come a day when you wouldn’t need your imagination to see the Milky Way at my friend’s home.