Dr. William Baker
I was born (in 1959) and raised in Birmingham, leaving only in 1981 to attend Medical School and then my residency in Anesthesiology. I returned with my wife in 1989, knowing that Birmingham is a great place to raise a family. I worked as an anesthesiologist until retiring in 2019.
I was a child of the Space Race era, and became interested in astronomy and astrophotography at a young age. I bought my first “real” telescope at age 13, after saving my earnings from neighborhood lawn-mowing services. I was proud of this telescope. It was a Criterion RV-6 Dynascope, with a 6 inch Newtonian reflector. While in Med School, I wooed my future wife with it and showed her the starry skies from the roof of the Med School building. I still have this telescope today. Even if I wanted to get rid of it (which I don’t), she would never let me.
As a teenager in the 1970’s, I could go out in my driveway to observe. We had a pretty decent dark sky. I joined the Birmingham Astronomical Society when it formed in 1977. I helped build the society’s first observatory, Spain Park Observatory, which in now “lost” somewhere on the Spain Park High School campus. At that time that area off Valleydale Road was still a true dark sky area. Slowly the light pollution moved in, and the observatory had to move as well. It was not just the Birmingham area night sky that I saw ruined. As a child, my family would vacation on the gulf, from Dauphin Island to Panama City. It was easy to view the Milky Way from a secluded spot on the beach. That excursion turned from a short walk on the beach to a long drive, attempting to escape the sky glow. Today, I don’t think it is even possible to view the stars anywhere along the overdeveloped coast: just one over-lighted building complex after another, killing the night sky and the turtles.
I had read about the International Dark Sky Association and thought it was a great idea so joined in 1993. In 2000, I upgraded to Life Membership when it became available, being only the 9th person to do so (according to my certificate). I then upgraded to Legacy Life Member in 2016. I wanted to do all I could to support the issue, as I am old enough to know what we have lost thus far. The night sky is truly an awe inspiring sight, and a wonderful part of my memories. I have taken my children on trips that allow them to see a true dark sky, which is something most of the U.S. population has never seen. As I have done in the past, I will continue to try to educate the public, politicians and municipalities about good lighting practices. I always tell people that you don’t have to abandon outdoor lighting, just practice smarter lighting strategies. The sad part is that we are actually wasting money and energy while engaging in these light polluting practices. Unfortunately, light pollution also leads to various medical and environmental problems. My hope is that my children’s children won’t have to travel to see the Milky Way. Wouldn’t it be great if they could just go out to their driveway, or walk onto the beach?