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  • Jennifer Jewell


Image of Dark Night Sky Beauty and Life courtesy of International Dark-Sky Association. All Rights reserved.



This week's Best of CP conversation is from December and the season of Winter Solstice, but I really wanted to revisit it now – in the season not too far past the summer solstice. The nights might be short (though lengthening now), but they are warm and we have a tendency to want to stay up and out later than we do in winter.

The summer stars, the summer moon, the meteor showers – they beckon us to come outside as much as our morning flowers….so this week, we spend a little time exploring and appreciating the many gifts of darkness with the International Dark-Sky Association. Enjoy!


The month of December is particularly full of seasonal markers – and the Winter Solstice ranks high – and oldest – among them. This moment in time and space when our amazing planet turns on her miraculous axis within our galaxy and we start moving back into the light. In the Northern Hemisphere, this is a season of long nights, cooler temperatures and needed rest.

If each day has its needed portion of night, so too does an annual spin on this globe of ours need its portion of darkness and rest. Our daily and annual recommended doses of darkness heal and restore and regenerate in a way so different than those same powers of sunlight.

Darkness is critical to our own health and wellbeing just as it is to the health and wellbeing of our native landscapes, our gardens, our plants and wildlife - our entire planet. But in areas of dense human habitation light pollution is rendering true dark more and more rare and endangered - which has immeasurable consequences on us, on landscapes large and small and on wildlife and plant life.

In anticipation of the Winter Solstice occurring at 8:28 am Pacific Time on Thursday December 21st, joining us this week to share more about the beneficial beauty of darkness are Amanda Gormley and Keith Ashley of the International Dark-Sky Association, based in Arizona. Both are gardeners and nature lovers, and they serve respectively as Director of Communications and PR and as Associate Director of Philanthropy for the organization.

We welcome them today via Skype from Arizona.

“I grew up on the east coast in upstate New York, and moving to Arizona, I’m still in transition of learning what plants grow naturally here and and passing that onto my children so that they feel a sense of home, but one of the really beautiful things about IDA - International Dark-Sky Association is that we get to talk to a lot of people about their connection to dark and night and spending time with their mother or father or grandmother or grandfather up on their roof looking at the stars or having someone point out the big dipper and everywhere they go no matter where they are they can look up and see those constellations that make them feel that sense of home."

Amanda Gormley, International Dark-Sky Association


Winter’s longer nights - early dark and late dark morning's offers us increased access to what should be dark night skies. The International Dark-Sky Association believes that “the natural night sky” is our universal heritage, with rich cultural and physical legacies. IDA and its passionate staff and partners across the globe are working to protect dark skies - AND our access to them - for present and future generations.

A fairly regular practice for me, especially in the winter months, is to wake in the early morning dark and to take my coffee out on the front stoop to greet the starry morning sky. In the evenings, I do the same thing with the last letting out of the doggies before bed. They go off to pee and snuffle and I gaze at the night sky from my back garden, where the north star anchors my view year round. When I can see the North Star, I say a good night of sorts. On the best days, I do this in the company of John, who shares and enriches my own love of the night sky. The dark night sky is – or should be a constant in our lives, but in areas of greater human density, the access to a natural night sky can be difficult to come by. Today IDA is sharing with us some of the group’s certified "Dark Places" around the world – connecting us to the physical experience of darkness, as well as to its important cultural and spiritual aspects.

“I’m Muslim American and we track time by the sight of the moon -

we go by the lunar calendar. When I considered taking this position with

IDA, that was one of the things that was at the front of my mind,

just our need - our inherent need to be connected to the Universe

through those natural cycles and through the passage of time.”

Amanda Gormley, International Dark-Sky Association


Amanda Gormley | Director of Communications and Public Relations: Amanda is drawn to the stories that capture the connection between us and our environment, and she is committed to building bridges that strengthen those connections to make our world a better place. She brings a decade of communication, community outreach, and nonprofit board service to IDA. Amanda says she is deeply moved by the night sky, and glad to be a part of the important work preserving darkness for the benefit of our health, our safety, our environment, and our ability to appreciate the majesty of the nighttime sky. When she’s not wrangling her two young children, Amanda is volunteering for community organizations in Tucson or riding her horse, Katillac.

Keith Ashley | Associate Director of Philanthropy: Keith first discovered his curiosity for the secrets of the night sky as a boy when his father—an Earth Sciences teacher—brought home the county telescope for a weekend of planet watching. While his fascination with birds had drawn his eyes skyward for many years, Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons increased his astonishment at the beauty of the natural world. Keith earned his Ph.D. in German Language and Literature at the Ohio State University, and after a brief stint as a German professor at the University of Notre Dame, he taught English at the middle school, high school, and community college levels in California, Kentucky, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation, and in the Tibetan refugee community in India. After his teaching career, Keith followed his passion for all things wild by investing in a year of graduate courses in Urban Wildlife Conservation at Prescott College. Keith joins IDA from the Tucson Audubon Society where he lead the organization’s development efforts. He found work in Philanthropy to be an exciting role in the world of conservation. “Connecting people’s generous spirits with the meaningful mission of a non-profit is deeply satisfying,” he says. Now more than ever, he is contemplating the words of German Enlightenment Philosopher, Immanuel Kant: "Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe… the starry heavens above me, and the moral law within.

To read more about the impacts of light pollution our wildlife, plants and other ecological systems that sustain us, follow some of these links to blog and article posts from the International Dark-Sky Association - their website is a wealth of information and inspiration:


Between last night and this morning, I sent my eldest back to college and I sent my youngest to the first day of her Senior Year of High School. It is late summer - back-to-school season in my world. It's a bitter sweet time - reminiscent, nostalgic. Long warm days, short warm nights. A sense of time moving and passing very palpably.

Winter or summer, spring or fall, I go out to say good morning and goodnight to the night sky from my garden - do you do anything like this? As many of you know, we've been having terrible fires throughout Northern California this summer and so, lucky as I and my immediate township is to not be in the line of any of these fires to date this year, the sky has been a strong daily and unsettling reminder. This past weekend were the peak of summer's beautiful Perseid Meteor Showers, which my region at my altitude could not witness this year due to the smoke. Another reminder of the majesty, perspective and daily value the night sky offers us.

My friends sometimes tease me: you – they say – can bring almost any topic back around to the garden, gardening and gardeners. For good reason – and given the compelling nature of gardens, it’s not really that difficult.

Today’s conversation about the importance of healthy natural darkness and conversation with the International Dark-Sky Association was just such a clear and easy connection.

When Amanda mentions this importance of tracking time by the phases of the moon in the muslim tradition, and how finding a familiar constellation can give us each a sense of being at home - I get these frissons of connection – yes, I am nodding my head, yes!

We gardeners are everywhere and this human impulse to garden is important. It makes a difference to our mindsets, to our families, to our communities and to our environments. I love those connections – interconnections.

These happen for me in every episode – sometimes in places I am least expecting it. If you’d like to get some heads up on upcoming guests, or get direct links to recent ones, make sure to go to and sign up for the monthly newsletter musings –A View From Here - it keeps us in touch in a little different way too.

What do you enjoy about your garden at night – what are your strongest starry or dark night sky memories?

I'd love to hear and see – make sure to follow Cultivating Place on Instagram and Facebook to stay in touch and let me hear from you…After all the whole point of Cultivating Place is to have conversations about these things we love and that connect us all.

Together we gardeners make a difference for the better in this world.

Cultivating Place is an award-winning co-production of North State Public Radio, where it airs every Thursday at 10 am PST.

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