Lights by night….

I have a little request…  I want a new kind of game to come into existence.  This would not a game for everyone, although there could be many potential players. Flying from Seattle to New York last evening, I was more interested in looking out the window than in playing a card game on my laptop. I realized that I want a game where you look at night aerial photographs of towns and cities, and answer questions about what you see.  For example, where the heck is it? Points could be awarded for recognition of geographic features, and for identifying built objects like stadiums, racetracks, and airports.

Or maybe there could be a game where you could build your own cityscapes by night.  Players could have a velvet black game board that filled their computer screen and a tool set of sparkling lights of various colors – linear, circular, bright and dim. Think of this…  the game could be to reconstruct your own city on the black screen with light components…  and the computer could score your depiction.  I am imagining the Willamette and the Columbia as first components, the island to the east that marks the edge of Portland airspace, Swan Island, etc, and the swing to the north the Columbia makes before it pours into the Pacific.

I have loved looking city lights for many years, and they are now more beautiful than ever to me.  I believe, and this will have to be confirmed, that some sort of new city lighting technology – possibly municipal LED lighting – has added a fabulous coppery gold color into the patterns of city lights.  I see them in marvelous curvilinear subdivision arrays – even from 30,000 feet – and they greatly enliven the complexity of light strewn across the nocturnal landscape.

My former father-in-law, F.G. Steele, was a great fan of author Oswald Spengler.  He used to quote from his book, Decline of the West, with some regularity; and was particularly fond of the Spengler’s observation that the only real art of the 20th century is the cityscape by night.

I remember him quoting this as we were at the top of the Fremont Bridge one beautiful summer evening twenty or more years ago, with the lights of Portland twinkling in the dusk as we crossed over the Willamette River.  Adolf Hitler was also fond of Spengler, which hasn’t helped his reputation among the literate.  I don’t know if the cityscape of lights is the ONLY real art of the 20th century, but it certainly ranks high for me, particularly when compared with some of the installation art I’ve seen recently.  Of course, this isn’t even the dang twentieth century any more, sigh.

Last night I was looking at the patterns of light – relentlessly original and unique, and incredibly beautiful in their randomness – and wishing that there was some way that I could capture this ephemeral glory and make it part of my own art in in some manner.  The design vocabulary of pottery surface imagery is so drab, so small, so chromatically insignificant at cone 10, and with the withering salt, that I think I will have to stay with words.

In the 90’s, I learned to fly and had a private VFR license, which authorized me to fly about in rented airplanes as long as I stayed away from clouds.  Flying at night was not approved by rental companies for low-time renter pilots, so the only time I could fly at night was in the company of my instructor, Andy.  He was a wild guy, and on approach he would shriek “Just put that center line right up the crack of your ass!”

But I had to be checked out on night landings to get my license, so one spring night we flew north following I-5.   Andy instructed me how to use the second microphone in the minimal stack of the tiny Tomahawk to turn on the pilot-activated lighting at the Woodland, Washington, airport, which lies right along the freeway to Seattle.

It’s pure magic.  You approach an unattended airport, which you know to be there even though you can’t see it. Then, you do this thing with your secondary radio – set the frequency to a number from a little book of essential information for Oregon airports that rests in your lap.  Then, you “key the mike” – tap it a specified number of times – and like a beautiful visual marimba beyond your experience  the glowing blue runway lights come on before you.  It’s incredible, and for a moment I could imagine myself to be a sailor of the ocean of air recognizing her home port, and felt a flood of assurance and comfort that safety had been won once more.

Who will play these games with me?  Other pilots, GIS geeklets, who knows?  I’ll let you all know when the games are ready….


3 thoughts on “Lights by night….

  1. Madeline

    I will certainly play! And yes, lights by night are truly gorgeous – at the global scale, also a bit a alarming. I particularly enjoy city lights at dusk when there is still a smear of turquoise in the sky to complement the gold.

  2. Eva

    I never thought of city lights from this perspective Ginger. They are truly gorgeous no questions about it. My favorite nighttime views have been up in the mountains lying on a blanket or sitting in a natural hotspring on a moonless night looking up at the stars. This view always instills peace in me, because it is incredible reassuring to know that how little any problem is in the big schema of life – the universe. Of course, this needs to be done with a star chart, a red light, and friends to help ID constellations and are willing to make a game out of it. I think I am ready for a trip to the mountains. Luckily, I have one planned to Switzerland with my sister. I think I know what we will do on one of the evenings there 🙂

  3. Diane Jette

    G, Your multifaceted and snappy brain is far out in the night sky, unlike my 2 legged one. If I’m trainable, I’ll play. dj


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