Beam Me Up, Scotty

Interstates From Roanoke To Bham to HotLanta at Night

We’re thinking a lot,  in the midst of both intentional and unintended change coming to southwest Virginia, about what we want to preserve in the way we live, about those amenities and resources we will not sell to woo tourism or other business, will not give up for any amount of revenue. There are some changes that would kill the goose that laid the golden egg. What are those precious amenities, values, conditions or resources, and how can we preserve them?

Two that came to me, and about which I am writing lately, are our dark night skies and our general freedom from second-hand noise.

With regard to the role of light in our lives, I’m appalled to learn how few of us on the planet see a sky full of stars. I think backwards in time and try to imagine if the skies of past millennia revealed no more than 10 stars to Copernicus and Galileo, to Shakespeare, King David or Van Gogh, how different our world would be.

And the greatest tragedy: we have “poisoned” our darkness with wasted light. We are pouring the lives of miners, the tops of mountains, up into empty space.

Outdoor lighting that shines directly upward is reported to waste 3.6 million tons of coal or 12.9 million barrels of oil a year. This flagrant misuse of energy doesn’t even include lights left on in cities overnight in empty office buildings. Image from with my text overlay of clearly visible southern cities at night. Check out Atlanta!

Dark night skies and reliable quietude are natural resources we don’t want to give up. How about your community?

Read more: my annotated resources for the role light plays in our lives.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Fred,
    You mentioned “quietude”…and I know I am going to sound like a crabby old crone, but we have a little white airplane that spends every clear weekend, growling back and forth across our farm. He needs a new muffler. But he isn’t alone. Huge flying machines–military, I’m certain, prowl overhead high above the clouds, constantly, as well. Gowling, roaring…we are on what is dubbed, VR 1751–standing for Visual Route 1751. Out here JOTOLR..we are a “flyway” for the military on the one hand, and a touristy little flyovers for smaller planes. Add to that what I call “chainsaw” airplanes…those little brightly colored “flags” that make an unconscienable amount of noise in proportion to their size; all this noise pollution (not to mention ground pollution from the spent fuel falling on us all)….whatever happened to peace and quiet? What’s wrong with peacefulness? What’s wrong with quiet? Every warm sunny day, our skies out here, are filled with unwelcome traffic. We’re losing the tranquility of “the country” replacing it with the roar of machines. Sorry about my rant!

    PS–Loved your “snake” post! I can relate!

  2. Fred,
    Fascinating facts about power usage/waste! Also, I really like the site with the earth at night. That one’s going to favorites!
    With your permission, I’m going to copy and paste your article over to my site and share it with my readers. Not to worry, you will get the credit.


  3. The last time I remember seeing a “real” night sky my kids were still in school and we were camping up on the Brazos River in north central Texas. That was over 10 years ago.

    I can still remember when they built the new Kroger Supermarket in our small town…Even though it was passed the Walmart and at least a couple of miles away as a bird flies, the sky just glowed all night long.

    Living south of Houston, I cannot remember a meteor shower that has ever been better than sad. Most of the showers originate in the glow to the north. Each winter I step out to say hello to the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters. For some reason that little star cluster has always been one of my favorites. Each year they seem dimmer and dimmer in the night sky dominated by the city glow that grows closer with every housing development out of the city.

    I envy you your seclusion there on Goose Creek…

  4. Thanks for the facts. I predict and hope that this useless use of power will be one of the first changes amde by governments trying to reduce their carbon footprint. What’s not to like about that change? It should be cost effective within a reasonable amount of time.

  5. I agree with Elora. Give ’em hell, Elora !!

    I live in Greensboro NC, and talking about noise.

    Sundays is what gets to me. You would think that at least one day in the week, especially Sunday, there could be and should be much less noise. Not so. I have neighbors that use lawn equipment, and then there is all the traffic……… Quiet?? !!!. Not in a city, or surrounding suburbs.