The Darkest Line

Recently I became interested in the darkest places in America, the forgotten places where one can still see the stars of my youth, places where time collapses and Huckleberry Finn might still be floating down a river beneath those same stars. Who’s out there today, in what is mostly considered Trumpland, and how are their nights different from mine? Do they gather inside around televisions to rage at an ungreatened America, or is America still great to them, outside the glare of our permanent light? Working with cartographers and computer scientists, and a roomful of supercomputers, I devised an algorithm plotting the darkest line across America, the route with the least cumulative light pollution, through “permanent night”. That line is not an imaginary wall on a political map, or a patchwork of blues and reds some breathless commentator appears to have quilted himself. It’s a secret pathway through the heart of our country, where time collapses, and the nights remain the nights of the native Americans and the pioneers. I want to tell the story of that line, the Darkest Line. I want to drive through the nights speaking to the people living along this forgotten fault-line, in the diners, churches, and bars, in overlooked towns, at truck stops, and on farms. I want to look up at the stars with them and wonder at the universe. What are their concerns? How do they feel about our distant, overlit world? The Darkest Line begins in Jekyll Island, GA and ends just south of Orick, CA, where Route 101 meets the Redwood Highway. Here it is plotted on a map:

The algorithm was built with following criteria:

  • start anywhere on the east coast
  • end anywhere on the west coast
  • take any passable public roads, no matter how small
  • choose the route with the least cumulative light pollution
  • assume “perpetual night”, i.e. don’t calculate daytime light