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HEADING FOR THE HILLS

Shining EXAMPLE

There is more than one way to see the light.

Nightly, without fail, one of us trails through the olive grove, a Cyclops with feeble head torch, to give the pony her last feed and a loving pat. The valley is swallowed by shadows. We give the old girl a little treat of soaked pinso just before we head for bed. It can be nudging midnight. The rhythm seems to work - she is well and content, 30 years old now. She is family.

The corral is some distance from the back door. We must weave through the trees, duck beneath branches of the walnut, cross the main farm track and skirt the wild woods. I call to her. But I am calling to others too. These ink hours are the kingdom of the boar, genet, owl, fox, pine marten, rabbit, to name but a few.

Nightfall is a misnomer. Darkness rises not falls. The shadows swell from the ground like a tide, from ankles up to necks, from grass to treetop and into infinity. We humans love the crepuscular colours of transition, the beguiling crimson fading, but not so much that other lump of time, of haunting black.

It is only black, though, because (as with so many things) we fool ourselves.

The sun sets. We flick switches, and then we sleep. Streets, highways and buildings pulse needlessly with exhausting brightness. That is the rhythm whereby we must manage, most of us... and miss out on infinite wonders, not least celestial. In my lifetime the obsession and waste of energy has grown ever more glaring as has our fear of the dark, fuelled more than anything by our fear of each other.

As we talk of a sustainable world, and also of boldly going where no woman or man has gone before – Mars for starters – it is no bad thing to break the reliance, or begin at least to significantly tone it down. I always stop en route to the corral to stand in this rare place spared the blinding pollution, to switch off the torch, patiently waiting for my eyes to adjust and then reminding myself of context; where I am and what it means to be alive. We are so clever yet it is always deeply edifying to look up and accept how very little we really know.

The most startling of human stains, artificial light, is a definitive example of our fears and force, waste and loss. We are diurnal creatures, cravers of illumination, fearful of shadow. So we radiate our power even more and weaken what we naturally need to see.

I have always loved the minimal soft, mellow glow of the Priorat villages, the faint warm pools in the swell of dark but discernible landscape. I find, in contrast, white, unrelenting lighting to be sickening.

What sense and example, then, now being shown by local and national authorities here in Catalonia, here in this county. The Generalitat and Diputació in Tarragona are enabling Priorat communities through different projects to further diminish light pollution. At the same time they are making significant power savings, reducing CO2 emissions and, hence, protecting the night sky and a fundamental element of the quality of life in this very special place.

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