We recently published the first chapter of Leigh Hopkinson‘s memoir Two Decades Naked — her book about her earlier career as a stripper. We asked the New Zealand-born author what she’s been reading lately.
Every once in a while, I come across a book that’s worth treasuring. My latest find is The End of Night by Paul Bogard. It’s about searching for natural darkness in an age of artificial light. And it’s an illuminating read, if you’ll pardon the pun. Bogard seamlessly weaves personal journey, history and fun facts, while lamenting that, in an age of increasing light pollution, many of us will never experience true darkness.
The nine chapters are ordered according to the Bortle scale of darkness, beginning with 9, the world’s most brightly lit places (think Las Vegas), and ending with 1, the darkest. I’m only up to chapter 7—which is to say, chapter 3—where Bogard makes a night-time visit to Walden Pond, the setting of Henry David Thoreau’s 1840’s classic, Walden. Trying to find the pond without the aid of light, Bogard loses his way. He observes that even if it were day, he still wouldn’t know which direction to take, but he wouldn’t be so afraid. Then he hears the frogs. By following their sound, Bogard finds Walden Pond.
It is fitting because I am listening to frogs myself as I read, curled on the couch of my partner’s cottage in country Victoria. After a long dry summer, we’ve had several days of rain and the dam once again has water in it. I can hear the rhythmic chortle of the smaller frogs, interspersed with the whip-crack of a larger one. My partner marvels at how the frogs resurface with the rain and how they can possibly survive for months in the dry dirt.
Meanwhile, I’m drawn to wondering where on Bortle’s scale of darkness the cottage might sit. I like to think it’s a 3, but I don’t know and I’m loath to skip ahead. On a cloudy night, the darkness is absolute. When I step outside, I literally can’t see my hand in front of my face let alone the gumtrees overhead, even though—like Thoreau at Walden Pond—I’m only a few minutes drive from the nearest town.
Accordingly, my body’s circadian rhythm has reset. Most nights I’m asleep by 10pm, because we’re on solar power and use it sparingly, whereas in Melbourne I would be wide-awake, engaged with my laptop or another source of artificial light.
Our reliance on artificial light is hard to break. Sometimes I get frustrated at having to monitor the solar usage, while in Life off Grid—a documentary about living in remote parts of Canada that I watched recently—many people interviewed by filmmaker Jonathan Taggart said they would happily connect to the mains if it were a feasible option. The film concluded with the somewhat ironic statement that to live off grid is a luxury: it simply wouldn’t be sustainable if everyone did it.
My off-grid sojourns are ironic in a different way. For two decades I worked at night, surrounded by every shade of artificial light imaginable. Out in the bush, there is no neon or UV: the moon and the stars are the only source of light. I’m rediscovering darkness too.
As I’m lulled to sleep by the sounds of the real creatures of the night going about their day, Bogard’s words stay with me. With at least 30 per cent of all vertebrates and more than 60 per cent of invertebrates nocturnal, the potential implications of growing light pollution on our ecosystems are enormous.
You can buy The End of Night here
You can buy Two Decades Naked here