I Miss the Darkness

Since I no longer live or work every day on a state park, I am frequently asked what I miss most about being on the park.  People are often surprised by my answer. Yes, I miss living in the woods and I miss the interaction with our visitors but what I miss most is the darkness.  Now don’t get me wrong I love my community and my neighbors but there is something magical about a night sky.  
I first recognized this on a camping trip with my son. We went to Jones Gap for a week of camping, hiking and father son bonding. We made sure one night was reserved for laying on the ground and looking up at the stars. What we discovered was while we saw stars at home, there were literally hundreds more than we were used to seeing back in our neighborhood.  I had forgotten just how many stars were up in the sky.  Oh, I do miss the darkness. 
When was the last time you went outside and took the time to look up and see the stars?  Too often we take the night sky and the stars for granted. They are out there every night and we often forget to stop and look up.  When I stay at a park I always make a point to do some stargazing. My daughter will often say “Dad’s looking at the stars again” and begin to prepare herself for one of those Dad talks about the moon’s phases or which planets you can see.  Oh, I do miss the darkness. 
Over time, our obsession with light has changed the night sky and left us with fewer and fewer places where you can truly experience the magic of a night sky.  Just think: for every star you see, there are thousands in between that you can see if you find the right location. 
While most of our state parks offer great night skies, I think the best for viewing stars and planets are on opposite ends of our state.  Hunting Island, with its 5,000 acres of maritime forest nestled next to the vastness of the mighty Atlantic Ocean, is the perfect canvas for a night sky with limited light pollution and boundless views. Three hundred miles north in the South Carolina mountains, Oconee State Park’s night sky seems sheltered by the dark mountains of the Blue Ridge and protective cover of Sumter National Forest, where the number of stars seems endless.  A quick gaze upwards and you are under a spell of dazzling lights and celestial wonders. Oh, I do miss the darkness. Luckily, I know where to go to find the magic of a night sky, and both of these parks are on my list to visit this year.
It’s almost March and while it is a great month for star gazing, it also symbolizes the start of what we have all been waiting for after a long, cold winter- the arrival of spring!  It’s the season that brings longer days, warmer temperatures, and the rebirth of a sleeping forest.  On March 20th the vernal equinox will mark the moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator – the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator – from south to north.  On the equinox, night and day are nearly exactly the same length – 12 hours – all over the world.  Then magically the days get longer and before you know it summer is here. Time to celebrate spring and the darkness, find your park and we’ll leave the lights on, but you’ll have to look up to see them! 


See you in the parks!
Phil