Monday, November 16, 2009

Journey to the North Pole

We started a new game with our children. Each day we ask them, "If we could go anywhere in the world today, where would we go?"  Then we think about what it might be like there.

The first day we tried this, we headed to the North Pole. What is the North Pole like in November? It is well into its six months of winter (I looked into this, the sun really does set for six months at a time), but can you just imagine what the stars and northern lights must be like?  I thought about it for a while and came up with this:
With six months of winter,
it's dark and it's cold
a vast sea of ice
lit with flashes of gold.

A quick change to red,
then some green filters through,
and all 'cross the sky
shimmer long wisps of blue.

Behind the aurura
shine pinpoints of light,
celestial calm
on a long winter night.

I would love to see it, despite the cold. It must be an incredible, awe-inspiring sight.

I have always loved the night sky, with constellations and the Milky Way. I have seen the latter only a few times in my life, when I have been high in the Rocky Mountains. There is nothing to make you feel small (and, more importantly, to make your problems seem insignificant) like looking up into a vast night sky, speckled with stars by the millions. And to see our own galaxy as a ghostly streak across the sky puts things into perspective: we live upon one planet among a nearly limitless number of others.

I find it sad that light pollution has prevented the vast majority of people from witnessing this extraordinary sight. I am considering joining the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), which defines light pollution as: Any adverse effect of artificial light including sky glow, glare, light trespass, light clutter, decreased visibility at night, and energy waste.

I want my children to see how the sky should appear. There is a fascinating article in the November 2008 National Geographic: "Our Vanishing Night." In this article, Verlyn Klinkenborg describes just why we need darkness. And photographer Jim Richardson's photos clearly illustrate the heart of the problem.  I would love to see the night sky it all its glory, and just as importantly, I want my children to experience it, too.

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