| August 14, 2008
Guest Column: Bring back the night sky
By JOY CRIST
Note: Where I live in Frisco, there are many fewer outside
spotlights at rental houses that are left on all night than there were
when Joy Crist wrote this column seven years ago. However, there
are still too many security lights, bright lights at businesses, and
the like. There is more work to be done to bring back the night sky.)
While the rest of the world embarks on a mass movement towards going
green to conserve energy and slow down global warming, Hatteras Island
has its own unique challenge to go green -- or rather black.
In the summertime, an evening drive is a snapshot of energy consumption
gone wrong. Spotlights shine from large homes, while the whir of air
conditioners can be heard in the background. Windows are flooded with
light, showcasing the families inside. (Note to people who like to walk
around naked: We can see you. Unfortunately.)
And the light pollution problem definitely isn’t limited to just homes.
Recently, a big yellow store that sells mass-produced beach merchandise
from New Jersey to Florida opened in my neighborhood. Apparently, the
caution-tape yellow exterior and grand scale of the building, which
dwarfs the charming gift shops around it, is just a little too subtle,
so every night the name of the store flashes in bright red lights
around the building. And I have an absolutely perfect view of it from
my front porch. Delightful.
Granted, most visitors and locals are conservation savvy. They take
time to turn off the lights when not in use and don’t waste energy by
doing something like opening the windows and running the air
conditioner at the same time. In fact, it can be argued that visitors
have taken the initiative in encouraging the islands to become more
eco-friendly, by pushing for curbside recycling, or at least more
recycling centers. And they have been successful. Homes in Rodanthe,
Waves, and Salvo now have the option to sign up for a local curbside
recycling program, thanks in no small part to visitor feedback, and
many homeowners have happily come on board.
But like a bad meal at a great restaurant or an annoying passenger on an airplane, the exceptions ruin it for the rest of us.
Consider Hatteras Island in January. There’s no question that it’s a
different world, but forget for a moment about the empty streets and
closed businesses, and cast your eyes upward. January travelers can
find themselves in the villages before they realize it or look around
on a particularly starry night and feel like they are in a dark snow
globe. You cannot get a similar feeling in the summer because the soft
orange glow that hovers above the towns lets you know they exist well
before you reach them, and it’s hard to concentrate on the panoramic
sky when there are lights blaring along the streets.
Recently, associations have popped up across the country heralding the
preservation of the night sky. From Long Island to Washington state,
local communities are encouraging their neighbors to shut down the
porch lights, the buzzing neon signs, and the business marquees when
they’re not in use. The result benefits everyone, with lower electric
bills and darker, more scenic skies.
For the Hatteras landscape lovers, it makes perfect sense to unplug the
juice since the dark panoramic sky is one of the main attractions. For
folks who haven’t had the pleasure of seeing it firsthand, a winter
night is just plain beautiful with seemingly brighter stars that go on
for miles, and all you have to do to enjoy it is find an empty spot on
the beach, which is not hard to do and look up. Forget Montana.
Hatteras Island is big sky country.
But now, unfortunately, the stars just don’t have the same shine and
attention grabbing luster as the blaring red sign that’s much closer
and intent on advertising a store in the middle of the night. Strangely
enough, the neon “open” signs stay lit all night too, apparently just
to tease all those shoppers who desperately need some cocoa butter and
a Confederate flag towel at 3 a.m.
For the folks who live and vacation here, bringing the night sky back
into focus is easy. Just turn off the lights when you’re going to bed,
especially the porch lights, so star gazers can enjoy the evening. To
go the extra mile, give the air conditioner a breather and open up the
windows, particularly in the shoulder season of late summer and early
fall when a little ocean breeze will go a long way.
For business owners, the majority of your clientele is not looking for
souvenir stores in the middle of the night and wee hours of the
morning. Why not run the signs until you are closed, and then turn them
off for a while? Your accountant, or whoever monitors your utility
bills, will thank you, and so will the thousands of visitors and locals
who treasure Hatteras Island because it’s peaceful, unpopulated, and
for the most part, devoid of the bright, tacky lights that smother more
commercial beach towns.
And big-yellow-Avon-store that shall remain nameless, trust me on this
point: You don’t have to worry about blending in. We are already
well aware that you exist, so let’s try to preserve a little of that
Hatteras Island character. Shut off the lights, and let the stars shine