A month ago I participated in an event called Earth Hour, where I used no electricity between the hours of 8 and 9 at night. It took some doing to get everything off–there are so many little lights on my gadgets that let me know they are powered down! Then I remembered that this is only one kind of “phantom load,” or energy use by appliances that are supposed to be off. I unplugged my refrigerator, thinking that even though I had turned down its thermostat all the way, there may be part of the thermostat using electricity by monitoring the temperature in there. Then I decided to just shut off the breaker that supplies my part of the house.  In doing so accidentally shut down power to the rest of the house for a minute–sorry Katie!–but at least I could be pretty sure I wasn’t using any electricity.

I spent most of the hour, then, just enjoying the silence and dark. I realized that these various glows and hums that I live with are anxiety-inducing. I love silence. I really dislike that my refrigerator makes noise, whenever I notice it. I want cold food, but why am I also paying to move the air like that, producing annoying sound waves? It’s inefficient and irritating. I don’t always notice, thank goodness, but sitting there in the silence, I believed that part of me is aware of all of that stuff all the time, and it drains me.

I also liked how I was not subject to be contacted and that I had made a clear, conscious decision not to contact anyone. It reminded me of a lecturer I saw several years ago who preferred the term “tethered” to “connected.” Don’t get me wrong, and don’t stop calling me! I love talking to my friends and family. It’s just that the possibility of constant connection creates a conflict between my desire for connection and my need for time just being in my body, slow, internally focused. And there are always people who it’s been too long since we’ve caught up, and the emails keep pouring in…

My means of production were mostly off the table, too. No computer, so no Word, WordPress, Excel, or Protools. No electric or electronic musical instruments. I played a some acoustic guitar and sang a little, but mostly I just rested, calm.

Then I decided to take a walk, maybe see if there were any signs of others taking part in Earth Hour. This is Eugene, after all. I was disappointed. Outside it was brightly lit up, just like it always is, and it pissed me off. It wasn’t that my neighbors all had their lights (and TVs and everything else) on. They probably didn’t know and/or didn’t care about Earth Hour and maybe even energy issues in general. I can understand that. I’ve been there. The thing that got to me was that the whole town of Eugene is brightly lit. For example, there is a huge parking lot just north of my house and even though it is not used at night, every square inch of it is brightly lit up, all night. Who benefits from this and how? It’s an empty parking lot. It’s not just a waste of energy, it’s an eyesore. Who decides about lighting up this parking lot? Do they think I want it lit up–that they are doing me a favor, spending all that money? I’d rather it was dark.

And it’s not just the ground. At least with that parking lot there is a chance that someone might want to get across it, climb the fence, and stumble on an unseen pebble or something if it was dark. But because of the level of illumination and probably the design of the lights, the whole sky is lit up, too. The light of Eugene illuminates the underside of the clouds over Eugene. Who benefits from that?

I do not. It’s ugly and I hate it. I would rather have darkness at night. If there are no clouds, I’d like to be able to see the stars. Why should we waste energy obscuring our view of the stars? It makes me miss the desert, where it is dark at night, where the stars are bright, where people use their cars’ headlights to see where they are driving, and flashlights to see where they are walking, if they need to, if there is no moon out.

Even in the desert there is an occasional street light, which has always baffled me. If we can get along just fine in the hundreds of miles of dirt roads in Joshua Tree, why did it seem like we needed that one streetlight on Hacienda Road and Willow Lane? As far as I’m concerned, all it does is waste energy and hurt my eyes at night. Many times over the last 25 years I’ve fantasized about shooting it out. And then there are the people who insist on lighting up their yards as bright as day. I suppose it makes them feel as if they are safer. My dad says, “City people… always afraid the Indians are going to sneak up on them.” I want those folks to believe they are safe, but I want them to do it without shining a light onto my property.

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