October 11, 2016
It’s 7:30pm on a Tuesday night. The sky is dark already. A few weeks ago, the sunlight would still allow me to see the greenery outside at this time of day. But we are marching inexorably towards the winter solstice and the sun sets earlier each day. I used to get a bit depressed about it. Summertime in the Upper Midwest region of the States is glorious. Especially when you are close to a body of water, and Lake Michigan certainly qualifies as that.
When I lived in the state of Michigan, we used to hop in the car and drive down to the beach three minutes away to watch as the sun made its way down towards the water, changing from a beautiful and bright orange to a softer, glowing red as it sank beneath the horizon. These days, I can see the colors through the tall residential buildings to the west, or the reflection of the sunlight on the steel and glass edifices downtown to the north of my apartment. It isn’t quite as pretty as the sunsets on the lake, but I have a full view of sunrises over the water now. Except that I’m gone long before those happen now. Days are shorter on both ends.
So now at night, the light that I see comes from the city itself. White lights from the windows in the condominiums and corporate offices, yellowish white from the sodium streetlights, red from the navigational beacons atop the buildings, lest an errant pilot in a low-flying aircraft confuse downtown Chicago with a bean-field. I can see big, lumbering jets approaching the city from the west, only to bank and turn in a counterclockwise rotation out over the edge of the lake before finishing their descent to O’hare International to the northwest of the city. Other aircraft heading to our smaller airport, Midway, fly almost directly overhead, their landing lights bright against the night sky.
All of this ambient light tends to block out the flickering stars. Those are probably what I miss the most while living in an urban setting. I long to see the constellations and try in vain to count the individual twinkling lights in the inky blackness. Several years ago, I had an early morning paper delivery route in central Indiana, where I would be driving from farmhouse to farmhouse out past the cornfields. There was very little ambient light there, and sometimes I would pull my car over to the side of the road and lay out looking up at the night sky in wonder. I hope to find places in Thailand like that. City lights are beautiful and exciting, but can’t hold a candle to the celestial splendor above.