Light Pollution

I prefer darkness when I sleep: the darker, the better. Rather than accommodate this, the rest of the world does what it can to fill my nights with light. Take my bedroom, for example. Just outside the front of the house where two of our bedroom windows face, is a streetlight, spilling a pool of bright light onto the street–and through my windows. We pull down blinds and slide curtains to banish the light.

But light still manages to encroach on my sleep. The darker it gets the brighter even the smallest light seems. And there are plenty of small, and completely unnecessary light that intrude upon my darkness. In the bedroom alone the cable box has a bright white light on the front of the box to indicate that the power is off. Why a device needs a light to indicate the power is off passes comprehension. If the makers of the box felt a power-off indicator was absolutely necessary, couldn’t they have made it a less harsh red light? I’ve taken to placing a ball of socks in front of the box to hide the light. This is what it has come to.

Why is it necessary for TV manufacturers to illuminate their brands when the power to the television is off? The TV mounted on the wall in our bedroom has a glowing yellow VIZIO on it when the power is off. At night, in the so-called darkness of our room, I sometimes awaken and see the letters hovering there. Do these manufacturers think I am going to wake up from a night of unsettled dreams with a desperate desire to recall the name of my television manufacturer. I assure you, if this ever happens, I will write a letter of thanks to the president of Vizio complimenting his foresight. For now, though, it’s just another useless light intruding into my darkness.

Above the door, just inside the bedroom, a small white light glows from the ceiling, blinking at me once per minute to remind me it–the smoke detector–is alive and well. Given that this same smoke detector will alert me when its battery is low (always, of course, in the middle of the night), I see no reason why it needs a light to remind me of the fact. Below it, low on the wall near the closet another light shines steadily throughout the night, assuring me the device to which it is connected is constantly sniffing for carbon monoxide.

They say that if you have trouble sleeping, try counting sheep. I say count the lights intruding upon your darkness. I could wander through the house in the middle of the night without a flashlight, given all the devices that feel the need to illuminate, counting them: televisions, microwaves, stoves, and refrigerators–the latter has a light on the dispenser to let me know whether ice, water, or crushed ice will come out of the dispenser. There are clocks, thermostats, power supplies, printers, cable boxes. Even the dishwasher has a green or amber light, there to answer the ancient question of all marriages, “Is this thing clean or dirty?”

I realize that I could eliminate a lot of these lights by removing them from the bedroom. But we find them useful, and I would argue that they would be just as useful without the superfluous light. I could wear one of those masks that they give you on airplanes to help shutout the light, but again, why should I have to? The lights in question are entirely pointless. Can’t there at least be an option to turn them off?

At times like this, I think about the summer nights we spent at a small seaside town in Maine. We sleep on the upper floor of a cottage, little more than an attic, really. There are skylights looking up into the sky, but there are no lights around anywhere. Not the glow of a clock, not a streetlight. Steps outside the cottage is a short cliff that drops off into the Bagaduce River. On a clear night, you can readily see the milky way, and walking the length of the dirt road that leds to the house can be dangerous without a light. That’s how dark it is. I treasure my nights there. It seems like one of the last truly dark places in the world.

I always get a good night’s sleep in Maine.