Bright city lights make me miss the stars

A couple of years ago, I took a trip to Algonquin Provincial Park with my siblings for some early November camping. One of the nights we spent there, I took a walk before supper and ended up wandering down the park laneways, so captivated in staring at the night sky with the infinite number of […]
Photo: Alex Lambert
Algonquin Times writer Rebekah Houter

A couple of years ago, I took a trip to Algonquin Provincial Park with my siblings for some early November camping.

One of the nights we spent there, I took a walk before supper and ended up wandering down the park laneways, so captivated in staring at the night sky with the infinite number of stars I lost track of how long I had been gone from camp.

Returning amidst complaints we could be roasting smores by the warm campfire instead, I dragged everyone into the cold and down the lane to the beach to show them the stars.

The sky was so open and wide above the lake and the beach, it seemed to be a giant dome of shiny pinpricks.

A blanket was spread out on the sand, and we all laid close together in the cold night air as we watched the sky, seeing how the Milky Way made a river of lights bright enough to see the lake and pointing out the constellations like Orion and Pegasus.

The longer we laid there, the more it felt like we were looking out at the stars, not up.

It felt as though you didn’t hang onto the blanket beneath you as you stared out into the infinity of space. All it would take to fly off the planet and into the stars was a single push — one leap and you’d float in the Milky Way and her brightness forever.

I couldn’t tell you how long we spent out there. It felt as if time had stopped moving.

The cold finally seeped into our bones and returned us to Earth, and we made our way back to our campsite. Our supper of potatoes wrapped in tinfoil in the fire had turned into coals.

Coming to learn at Algonquin College meant leaving those stars behind.

Ninety-five per cent of stars normally seen are not visible to the naked eye in large Canadian cities, according to astro-canada.ca, a Canadian-based astronomy group. Research from the University of Exeter in 2014 showed global light pollution increased by at least 49 per cent over 25 years.

The overly bright city lights at night irritate me.

I get the reasoning for the lights. Studies point out benefits like being able to see trip hazards and obstacles, using public and outdoor places after sunset and preventing the likeliness of driving accidents.

A lot of these studies have also shown the fear of crime is reduced when streetlights are improved, especially for elderly people and women.

Still, I miss those stars.

When I was a little kid, on clear nights we would spend hours staring up at the night sky.

Dad would take out his phone with his night sky app and show us which stars made shapes and constellations. He showed us how the Big Dipper points to the north star and Leo the lion chases Pegasus across the sky.

Those nights turned into some of the best parts of my childhood summers. I remember staring up at the brightness of a billion other suns and thinking how cool it was I was watching the same stars humans for tens of thousands of years have used to guide them at night.

Some of my friends and people I’ve met at Algonquin College have never seen the stars illuminate the sky so brightly that they wouldn’t need a flashlight. They grew up in cities and are used to the cold, pale, empty night sky with its three dim stars and two planes.

But how doesn’t the empty sky make you curious, or make you feel like there could be more hanging just outside your reach?

It’s not a black void hanging above our heads, endlessly expanding into outer space. There is a beautiful glittering blanket of billions of suns and planets destined to outlive all of us.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the learning and (more importantly) the easy walk to Timmy’s.

But I miss seeing the star patterns and the story they made across the sky. I miss feeling a little less lonely outside at night.

Light pollution is impacting our ability to see what’s going on in the skies above us during the night.

In a way, not seeing the stars dancing above me at night has the feeling of losing an old friend.

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