Friday, September 14, 2007

It's night time, Blinky, it's supposed to be dark

light trespass
"The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible." Ralph Waldo Emerson

I live in on a quiet street in a rural town. My bedroom window overlooks the back yard from the second floor. The view is charming after dark, especially under a full moon- I can't see that the grass needs mowing and the acorns fallen from the oak have taken root and crowd the hostas in the rock garden. I'll pull blankets from the cedar chest up to my chin so I can keep the sash up. Even on cold winter nights it's worth a shiver to hear the old pine sigh in the wind and watch cats move in the blue shadows.

Since midsummer I need to be careful which way I look to keep that spell intact. My neighbor has installed unshielded garden lights along his rear fence and the glare is awful until a timer shuts them off at eleven. This kind of trespass isn't new for him. Since spring I haven't been able to step out on my back porch without triggering the clear glass bulb over his side door. Since last summer I can't set up my telescope in the middle of my back yard without tripping the sensor that turns on the floodlights on the back of his garage. The year before that he installed a post light with a milk glass globe on his front lawn that stays lit all night long.

I don't know what his problem is, exactly, but I just learned from a great article in the New Yorker that there's a name for this rudeness: light trespass. Light doesn't respect property lines any more than loud music does. Many communities have laws to prohibit objectionably loud music or mufflers, especially after dark. An anonymous phone call will bring cops to your door with a noise complaint.

Few small towns treat light pollution the same way. Larger cities have larger problems. Some limit street, mall, and building lighting and require fixture design to direct light onto the ground or road while shielding the eyes from glare. You can find model lighting ordinances online. Even so, I've flown over the country at night and have been astonished by how few and far between are the lovely dark islands among blazes of light.