Appreciating Dark Skies

March 9, 2017

Spring is upon us. I see and hear many of the Hill Country’s heralds of spring; field Sparrows singing, redbud trees blooming, and frogs chorusing. It’s a great time to get outside and enjoy the gifts of nature. This weekend, I’m planning to enjoy the familiar songs of migratory birds and the fresh foliage during a quick backpacking trip to Colorado Bend State Park. I’ll certainly indulge in the sights and sounds of spring but I’ll equally seek the quietude and the darkness of night skies.

I do not want to sleep for fear I might miss the twinkle of the brightest star for fear I may never know how the moon glimmers, in the darkest hour.Sanober Khan

I recall a warm August night on a granite hilltop in Llano County. I had just gotten past the halfway mark of a long deer survey and decided to take a break on the hood of the truck. As I lied there on my back, eyes skyward, I noticed a small, unblinking white light slowly pacing across the inky, star-studded sky. It was the first time I had ever noticed a satellite. Not long after that, I tallied eight shooting stars, one of which was an absolute show-stopper seemingly tearing through the night. I was amazed and couldn’t believe how clear and bright every feature of the night sky was. When I finally hopped off the truck, I was blown away by my own shadow perfectly registering on the ground before me. There was no moon. This was simply the stars at night, big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas.

From my experience on that hilltop, I’ll share one of the most understated benefits of land preservation (there are many). With every acre preserved, we assure a limit on the cumulative effect of light pollution locally and regionally. We achieve this by working with landowner partners to voluntarily limit development on important tracts of land but also by being a resource to the communities we serve. Conservation, including night sky preservation, goes beyond conserving strategic tracts of land, it’s success requires community engagement and outreach coupled with practical and meaningful guidance. Hill Country Conservancy is committed to protecting all aspects of what make the Hill Country country, including caring for our dark night skies. For more information on simple steps you can take to preserve night skies please join us at the Night Sky Festival held in Dripping Springs on Saturday, March 18.

About the Author

Romey Swanson

As the Conservation Project Manager, Romey Swanson assists the Director of Land Conservation with acquisition and stewardship of conservation easements. Duties include building and maintaining relationships with rural landowners and educating them on the benefits and requirements of conservation easements. In addition, the Conservation Project Manager creates maps and related georeferenced files as well as documentation and analysis of HCC’s existing and potential conservation easement projects. Check out Romey's personal blog: Modern Texas Naturalist