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More movies, less stars

Tom Boyd

It was a new rope ladder, a Christmas gift from mother, and he was already using it to deceive her. He unrolled it judiciously down the side of the house, and as stealthily as ol’ Saint Nick he rang in the New Year with a midnight escape into the side yard and the illicit freedom of the night.The car was a bonus. Barely 16, he stole the old truck and listened as snow made a funny crunching/ squeaking sound under the tires the engine wasn’t running and the headlights were off (super-stealth mode), but the quarter moon, that blue flashlight of his romantic universe, was enough to guide him down the mountain road and onward to Minturn, to his girlfriend’s house, where they buried themselves in heavy blankets on the porch and whiled away the night gazing up at Rocky Mountain stars.This was as romantic as things could really get for a high school kid back in 1989. There were two movie theaters, and this boy and girl duo had seen each movie multiple times. The real show was up in the heavens, where nature’s mind-boggling display was available nightly, free of charge, so long as mother didn’t find out.Not so these days.With four theaters and 16 screens, there are more movie stars than real stars in the valley now. As a movie-goer, I can’t say that I’m unhappy about the cinematic growth our valley has undergone. But think of this: movie theaters are an indication of a town’s development and progress, its connection to greater America and the great American way.With every movie theater comes more lights: lights for the marquee, lights for the parking lot, lights for the outside of the building. Our new box stores bring massive doses of light, as does the strip mall in Edwards. The lights that give shoppers a sense of safety also blot our view of the most astounding, profound natural view possible the view of the universe itself.The boy in my story has a different life now. Free to roam where he will, he still has a bit of a hankering for nighttime wanderings. He jogs along the snow trail during the evenings in Eagle-Vail, up to where he can overlook the city. From there, he is sad to note, there is very little in the way of stars.The bright purple Milky Way once tickled his heart as well as his cerebellum. The Seven Sisters reminded him of those same-named pools in the high country nearby. The two constellations around the North Star (with many names from many cultures) chased each other endlessly in a light show older than humanity.Light pollution doesn’t seem to be too high on our valley’s list of priorities. Lighting the highways, the byways, the alleyways and the front porches is more important to folks, probably to provide a certain level of safety (or more likely, the false sense of safety that comes with it.)And maybe this is right. Maybe we should say goodbye to the stars, focus our vision on the here-and-now, the life right in front of us, and we shouldn’t worry about the stars. After all they’re not much use (unless you’re navigating the sea, of course), and we seem to get on fine without them.On the other hand, perhaps we should recognize that all good things don’t necessarily have a use. As a popular song points out, we are all made of stars, and it’s true: our elementary components were created in the bellies of ancient fireballs floating through the vastness of the early universe. Since then stardust has found a way to coalesce into planets, moons, nebulae, rocks, plants, and eventually into intelligent, sentient beings: us.As cosmologist John D. Barrow has said, when we look up into the stars we are, in a way, the eyes of the universe gazing back upon itself. We are the way the universe knows itself. I’d hate to muddle that vision with an overgrowth of energy-guzzling, glorified night lights. But things aren’t looking too bright for those of us who want to dim light pollution.So I propose this: on the 13th of every month the entire valley should shut off all but the most essential lights. For a few hours we can remind ourselves how big (and beautiful) the universe really is, and how insignificant we really are.And if it weren’t for the criminals, who would travel from miles around to rob us blind in our blindness, I think it really would be a nice idea. In the meantime, I’ll just have to keep hiking farther and farther away from Vail to stay away from the constant yellow halo that hangs above the valley.Tom Boyd is a lifelong local and assistant editor at The Vail Trail. He can be reached for comment at (970) 390-1585 or tboyd@vailtrail.com.


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