Illustration: Meg Richards
Why can’t I wish upon a star in Boston?
Illustration: Meg Richards

Why can’t I wish upon a star in Boston?


This past summer, my boyfriend hosted bonfires on his parents’ farm for all our friends and coworkers to hang out at. During the final bonfire of the summer, we decided to sleep outside on his trampoline and look up at the stars. Since he lives on a property with a lot of open space, it was the most stars I’ve ever seen at once. Suddenly, right before we both dozed off, we saw a shooting star in our sleepy haze. That star has been the muse for all my shitty poetry and watercolor paintings ever since. 

One of my favorite pastimes in Virginia is stargazing. With the open countryside just a stone’s throw from my house, I maintain that we have the perfect view for stargazing. 

When I come home from a long night of work, the best way for me to decompress is to look at the stars for a good 10-20 minutes before heading inside to debrief with my parents. This same meditative practice also applied to rehearsals, sleepovers, and picking up my sister from dance. 

There’s something about looking up and being reminded that the universe is so much bigger than us. It melts my worries and qualms away instantly. Who cares if a customer was rude or that my manager yelled at me? Nature has produced wonders far bigger and more important than all of us, and it will keep doing so for a duration so vast we can’t begin to fathom it. By the time I’ve found Big Dipper and Orion, I no longer feel that whatever I was upset about is worth occupying real estate in my brain. The problems of today won’t even exist in one hundred years. Stars are forever.

Once I came to Boston, I could no longer use this therapeutic technique. My first outing into Boston Common at night marked the moments I couldn’t find a single star, even on a clear night. Amidst the glow of buildings, car headlights, buses, and streetlights, the city’s lights polluted the night sky, making it impossible to see any constellations—let alone a shooting star.

Short of flying back home, the only times I can see the stars or the moon are when I visit my aunt in Essex, Mass.Mass.. I slept over the night of the Harvest Moon, which is dubbed for lighting the way for farmers late into the night to get their harvest, since it is the full moon closest to the autumn equinox. Even though it was too cloudy to see stars, I could see the full moon in all her divine feminine glory—and then I looked a bit southwest and saw the bright beaming morsel of Jupiter. The largest planet in the solar system is just a twinkling speck next to the bright, big, beautiful moon. Of course I know how distance works, but this juxtaposition reminded me of how I feel when I look at the stars.

Why is it that I feel smitten looking at the stars, more so than any other natural beauty? Could it be the zodiac qualities that I’ve spent years learning inside and out? It can’t possibly be that simple. It has to do with the feeling that they appear so close, and yet exist so far. Like I could reach out and touch them, dance with them, wrap myself in them, when I know I can’t. Not for many light years. And especially not when living in Boston and all its light–polluted glory.  

Light emitted outdoors that casts its glow upwards or outwards reflects across the entire sky—as far as that light can stretch. When you consider the multiple skyscrapers, marquees,, and streetlights that a city like Boston has, it’s no wonder a once incandescent scene in the sky is nothing more than a dull gray, starless.  

Light pollution isn’t just a concern of aesthetics. Sky glow, which refers to the appearance of the night sky after light pollution, can disrupt the circadian rhythms of humans and animals in areas with high light pollution (like big cities). This can interfere with the body’s production of melatonin, which can result in higher levels of fatigue and anxiety. To take it one step further, researchers have found a link between lower levels of melatonin and cancer

Light pollution disrupts animal migration patterns and habitats. According to National Geographic, animals like sea turtles and birds that are guided by moonlight can lose their way due to light pollution. Insects, though they are pests, keep our ecosystem running by being a food source for birds and other animals. With high levels of light pollution, they are drawn to light sources and killed.

As of 2020, Massachusetts was the only state in the northeast that had yet to pass legislation combating light pollution. This light pollution map shows how light pollution affects different areas of Massachusetts. The light gray area, also known as Boston, is classified as “Sky is bright and discolored everywhere. Most people don’t look up.” 

But it isn’t a hopeless case. Several politicians are pushing for legislation to curb light pollution in Boston and advocacy groups are urging the whole state to take action. Lights Out Boston is an initiative working to protect the environment from light pollution. There is a push from scientists here and everywhere to reduce light pollution in order to improve the health of the city’s inhabitants, both animals and humans.

Until then, I will go home a couple times a year and soak up the stars. I will sleep outside and point out my favorite constellations with my dad. I will take low quality pictures on my phone and think of Boston, who doesn’t yet know the power of the stars reminding you how small life is, and how big it could be.

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About the Contributor
Meg Richards
Meg Richards, Staff Writer
Meg Richards is a first-year student from Richmond, Virginia. She has a double major in journalism and political communications. She mainly writes for the Opinion section, though she dabbles in News and Living Arts.

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