"In every walk with nature one receives more than he seeks."
John Muir

Sunday, September 25, 2011

I Saw the Light! The Northern Lights, that is!

I have been longing to see the Northern Lights in their splendor and glory.
Arriving in late-May or June, the nighttime skies are light
and there is no way I am able to see them.
But once darkness creeps into the Alaskan skies by late August,
it is my habit to peer out the windows in the middle of the night,
hoping and wishing.
The apartment complex where I live offers a nice service to guests:
a phone call will wake anyone who requests such
when the Northern Lights are out.
I gave them my phone number.
Around midnight, just after we had crawled into bed, the phone rang.
With the excitement of a couple rushing to the hospital for an impending birth,
we pulled on warm clothes, grabbed the hats and mittens and...
brewed a pot of coffee!
(But of course, who wouldn't?)

We could see the alighted sky from our parking lot,
but wanted to best possible show without the distraction of streetlights,
so we drove to the farm less than a mile away.
We parked and waited rather impatiently for the automatic headlights
to finally shut down.
Holding our warm coffee mugs, we stood at the edge of the dark field.

A rainbow-like arch extended from east to west across the whole sky
at the direct level of our gaze.
It was perfectly even on the bottom edge and glowed a phosphorescent green.
The top of the arch widened in the center and had hazy edges.
It reminded me of water colors that have been brushed on a page that was first wetted down so that they bled upward. Quite tame and still.

We gazed intently and soon the "dancing" began.
The uneven tops of the green arch began to stretch and reach upward in shooting manner.
They exploded and jettisoned the color from greens to white to purple.
Have you ever seen a dancing fountain
that shoots jets of water upward to music?
These glowing lights flung themselves upward, stretching and expanding until they glowed beyond the dome of night sky directly above our heads.
We were flabbergasted.

Suddenly a ball of white, smoke-like cloud exploded as from a cannon
at the far right of the arch.
It raced along the curved path, turning like a bowling ball tossed down the alley
toward the pins, enlarging and gaining color as it rolled.
Once this large mass of color reached the other end,
far into the opposite horizon,
this band of color started to undulate and fold back on itself in waves.
The motion was much like a flag furling and unfurling in the breeze.
Accordion-like waves glowing in pale whites with blue and purple streaks.

The night sky was alive. Vibrant. Stunning. Glowing. Waving.
Fading and then, in a burst of energy, tossing new colors in exotic patterns.
We stood in speechless wonder for one and a half hours.
The coffee grew cold. We grew cold. But, who cared?
We were transfixed, awestruck at this display of intensity in lights.
Energy enough to activate all the electrical grids of the USA for a year in this one night.

Far more than I had ever dreamed of witnessing.
I could now leave Alaska in peace.
I'd watched the sky dance and sing without a song.
Silent music.
Phenomenal excitement.

A graceful dancer had raced between the constellations lifting a long and billowing silk scarf of delicate shades of color over her head, letting it trail behind her as she leaped and ran.
And we were there, cheering without a word,
hearts leaping within our chests to the rhythm of her steps.

How I wish you were there with us.
I took many pictures with my little camera, even a few videos.
But, upon viewing the pictures the next morning, this is all I saw:

I'm so sorry.
And so my words, limited though they are, will have to do.
I tried to describe the glory of the aurora borealis to you.
But, to really KNOW what they are, you'll just have to visit this great state of Alaska during a time when the sky darkens with night and see for yourself.
Don't bother making hot coffee.
You won't take your eyes of the splendor of the skies.

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