Editorial: Rappahannock from 30,000 feet

What a happy surprise! I had no idea that the flight path to Salt Lake City would take me directly over Rappahannock County. Out the window just below the wing was U.S. 211; and using that tiny river-like ribbon as if a highlight on a map, I was able to spot Massies Corner, Washington, Sperryville and Thornton Gap. The world-weary passenger seated beside me didn’t know quite what to think as I eagerly pointed.

Rappahannock was actually easy to identify flying west from Reagan National. Suddenly, the earth below, formerly infested with houses and strip malls, gave way to open spaces in various, verdant shades of lushness. The still-forested monadnocks rising up out of the Piedmont peneplain looked like they were carpeted with garlands.

It was an early evening flight, so we were following the setting sun. Dusk was behind us, and the earth there was starting to glow, taking on the appearance of Times Square or Las Vegas. Only the earth that is Rappahannock and points west would remain relatively free of the blight of artificial lighting.

Darkness visible, the way nature intended.

An open forum on “Dark Skies” and their value to the community is being sponsored by the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors at the county courthouse at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 7. While no regulations are proposed as part of the discussion, residents might wish to inform themselves about ways to mitigate what is termed light trespass and light pollution — such as using outdoor lighting that is downward-directed.

For unless human behavior is altered, the stars — and the sense of wonder they inspire — may one day disappear.

Already eight out of 10 Americans born today won’t ever live where they can see the Milky Way, according to a new book titled “The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light.” Its author is Paul Bogard, a professor just across the unlit Blue Ridge at James Madison University. It is recommended reading, especially by candlelight.

Walter Nicklin