WHILE ALL lawyers must be well-versed in legal code, well-trained in argument and well-prepared for the most intense of proceedings, it’s not as expected for these counselors to have deep expertise in, well, anything else—much less the phenomena of the universe. However, that is exactly what Bruce McMath, trial attorney, Hastings College of Advocacy and Hastings Law School lecturer, and counsel of McMath Woods P.A., has come to master.
Currently the secretary (and formerly the president) of the Central Arkansas Astronomical Society, Bruce works to promote amateur astronomy and recreational stargazing. But it’s as the chapter chair, volunteer team chair and speaker for the Arkansas Natural Sky Association that he has recently helped make a monumental contribution to bringing the universe ever closer to residents of The Natural State: On June 13, the National Park Service announced that the Buffalo National River Park had been recognized as Arkansas’ first International Dark Sky Park—a distinction made possible by ensuring that the hundreds of light fixtures in the park are equipped with bulbs registering under 3,000 on the Kelvin scale, which measures the color temperature, or light appearance, of a bulb.
Born and raised in Arkansas (a fifth-generation Arkansan on his dad’s side), Bruce describes his first float on the Buffalo River as “an adventurous visit to another world.” While growing up in Little Rock, he wasn’t able to see a genuinely dark sky as a child, but he can still remember lying in the grass, “contemplating the stars.” Now, with the new park designation he helped make a reality, the two activities can come together under the most inspiring—and clear—view of the cosmos.
Part of the Fabric of Humanity
“A truly dark sky is objectively nature’s grandest and most moving spectacle. A person who has not lain under the Milky Way on a clear, dark night and allowed their soul to fly among the stars is living a stunted life. Being deprived of nature at night is one of the most significant environmental handicaps that modernity imposes on humanity. Some 80 percent of humanity today live under light-polluted skies and are thus deprived of something our ancestors took for granted until very recently—the ability to see and contemplate the universe we are a part of on any clear night. It is a great irony: Now that we have a substantial understanding of what the night sky reveals, we can’t see it anymore. When we knew nothing about it, it was a real and intimate part of every human’s life: a clock, a calendar, a compass and, I like to say, Netflix, because our ancestors hung the stories of their gods, heroes and villains on the patterns they saw in the stars.”
A Willing Partner
“After approaching the state-park system and the Ouachita National Forest without success, Bruce Thomasson, who was a partner in getting the Arkansas Natural Sky Association chapter moving, suggested that we approach the Buffalo National River Park. Tasked with protecting the natural environment within the national park system, the National Park Service has been a pioneer in developing responsible lighting practices and educating the public about the concerns with light pollution and how to mitigate it. The Buffalo enjoys some of the most natural skies in the state. So we approached them, and the response was, What do we need to do?”
Benefits of the Dark Sky Park Designation
“The designation brings a focus to the park’s management of its lightscape, which not only helps protect the natural sky resource and the park’s nocturnal wildlife, but also serves as an example to the public of how to light responsibly. [Responsible lighting] not only reduces wasted energy, greenhouse gas emissions, and public health and safety risks associated with poor lighting, but it also makes experiencing the universe personally more accessible.”
Enjoying the Results
“Due to changes made in the park’s own lighting, it is darker than it has ever been at the locations I have visited. On my last visit to Tyler Bend, I took a reading on what the forecast said would be less-than-average transparency and got a sky [quality] meter reading of 21.68 SQM, two-tenths darker than the best reading I had previously gotten at that location. The darkest readings I have seen published from anywhere on the planet, places like the Chilean [Atacama] mountain desert, are in the 21.95 area. Under such a sky, it can be hard to sort out the constellations because there are so many stars.”