I stood outside on a moonless night, and *I COULDN'T SEE THE MILKY WAY.* There were still many more stars that in San Jose, but my heart sank within me. Even as a child, one of the things I hated most about Los Angeles was the lack of true darkness and stars. I've always hated places where you can see perfectly well at night by the residual glow of the night sky. That lack of darkness keyed a deep-seated dread and loathing in me that I've mastered as I grew older, but still can't say I like. Did I belong there any more? At that point, I couldn't say. I thought of the awful leaden feeling I recently got from reading an article that said that perhaps by the middle of this century, it will be all but impossible to see the stars of the night sky that once were so famiiar---because light pollution is everywhere.
And yet... I drove up highway 1 on Sunday and pulled off at the turnout south of San Simeon. The paved turnout that didn't exist until a few years ago. By a beach I first walked when I was 6. I wondered if the jade boulder was still there, buried in the sand, or had been blasted out years ago... The place was full of tourists with binoculars and an excited manner, so I had to see what was the attraction.
ELEPHANT SEALS! They were everywhere, lying on the beach, spy-popping out of the surf, youngsters tussling in the breakers. I chatted with a fellow who was a volunteer there, and he said they first started appearing about 10 years ago, no one knows why. Perhaps it was because of the marine mammal protection act bringing the population up again. Was it some genetic memory brought them back to beaches perhaps their ancestors had known, before they were slaughtered to the edge of extinction for their blubber, back in the 19th century?
And then I started to wonder about trade-offs. Would I trade stars for elephant seals? I found it unsettling to view in those terms. I wanted both. But if I had to make trade-offs, which would I pick? Maybe the elephant seals had the edge. But it seems like I was looking at a Devil's Bargain---the dilemma of the 21st century, a fit analogy for ecotourism. And a troubling one.