When I was 10 years old, my family drove across the country on a trip that changed my view of the world in a way I never put together until I was an adult. As we drove through the Badlands, my mother thought it was the most despairing place on Earth — no trees. For my mom, trees made a place habitable.
But I was awed by the open expanse; the purples and grays and reds layered one upon another to form the bald mountains. I could see for miles.
And when I looked up — oh, the sky!
Owning my “big sky” persona was a pivotal journey, a learning that the world is an expanse of beauty. As a child, the Northwest’s tree-encumbered landscape embraced me within a cocoon of greenery. My focus was on what was within my grasp — within my line of sight (which was very short amid all that greenery).
I had been taught to keep “things” to myself, to not share (which means to not trust), to use the emotional landscape to cover the unpleasantries of life and all that I did not know of life. In Barbra Streisand’s words, I had lived my early life having “settled for a piece of sky.”
Is it any wonder that I exult in the month of June? We celebrate butterfly awareness (June 7), full moon day (June 13), summer solstice (June 21), look up at the sky day (June 30), and meteor watch day (June 30). The beautiful Lepidoptera flutter past us, catching our attention, and pulling our eyes toward the wild blue yonder.
“Stop and smell the roses” has become a cliché. This month I say “Stop! Look up!” Look up during the day. What do you see in those clouds overhead? What birds and butterflies soar? Join them in your mind’s eye, become your own Jonathon Livingston Seagull.
At night, look up and gaze upon the constellations. While our chance to view May’s Linear meteor shower was glumly overcast, we have a great viewing opportunity June 24 (about 45 minutes before sunrise). Venus and the moon almost kiss in the first blush of dawn.
Early to bed, early to rise will allow you to catch this serene stunner. At least I hope it is a stunner. When I first moved to the Boulder City area, my husband and I were volunteers for Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Our campsite up against the mountains and our ceiling of the Milky Way was bliss. In 15 years the glow of our metropolis has eradicated the Milky Way from our night sky. Two-thirds of America’s population see sky-glow rather than the Milky Way.
Las Vegas has a huge negative effect on our stellar landscape. What will it take for us to recognize the adverse effects of our fascination with illumination? Not only do the lights impede or eradicate the starry view, but there are real dangers to flora and fauna.
Turtle hatchlings get confused as their first foray toward the light on the horizon heads landward rather than to the sea, their life extinguished. Artificial light induces early breeding in birds, overfeeding, and affects migration. Well-fed birds are signaled to migrate before their destination is nesting-ready. If birds overfeed because of longer light, have we looked at the effect of the same on our overfed youth?
Darkness is essential to our internal clocks. The rhythm of waking and sleep is crucial to our health. For the past century we have extended our day, shortened our night and confused our body’s response to light. Messing with our biological clock can lead to sleep disorders. Normal sleep patterns are obsolete where artificial light extends the day far into the night. The consequence of this bright new world has a biological toll.
Like birds crashing into an unnecessarily lit skyscraper, we live in a danger zone — one of our own making. Without the stars overhead we become enamored with the glitter of the illuminated Strip, we forget to look upward and outward and literally lose sight of our place in the universe. Without the stars, planets and nebulae we forget the scale of our being is minuscule in the presence of so many galaxies that we have obliterated from our sight. Rarely do we see the shooting star on which to wish.
The month of June gives us the longest day of the year (June 21), a chance to become illuminated about preserving the view of our universe. In the early evening, look up at the sky; Jupiter, Mars and Saturn look down. Retire early on June 23, rise at predawn of the 24th to witness the crescent moon kiss Venus.
Look up at the sky. How sad it would be if your child or grandchild never sees your favorite star or constellation because of an overlit world. How sad to live a childhood without the opportunity to wish upon a shooting star.
By the way, my favorite constellation is Orion. He visits every winter. Which is yours?
Look up and enjoy your piece of sky!
Cat Trico has been a resident of Boulder City since 2003 and is a past president of the Senior Center and co-founder of the Decker Lake Wetlands Preserve. As an author and editor, she contributed to “Rights, Responsibilities, and Relationships” for youth. She can be reached at email@example.com.