I’m not a big fan of the term bucket list, because it reminds me about kicking the bucket. I DO however like the term wish list. There are many things on my wish list, and I just got to experience one of them, the Aurora Borealis. I have the best husband in the world, and for our recent landmark anniversary, he used up all of his hard-earned airline and hotel points, along with a couple hundred dollars and took me to Alaska to see the Northern Lights for our anniversary. I’m going to break the trip up into several posts because I don’t like to make them too long. I am including pictures, but I’m not an expert at taking Aurora photos, so they aren’t up to my usual quality. I’m leaving them smaller because they look better small.
The Northern Lights are of course linked to a number of legends for the people native to the areas where they appear. In Alaska, they’ve been viewed as everything from what is basically a celestial River Styx to an omen of war to animal spirits. I’ve even been told that in some areas the Eskimos sing to the lights. The scientific explanation is that charged particles from the sun strike atoms and molecules in Earth’s atmosphere, excite those atoms, and cause them to light up. The best time to go is March due to a better likelihood of clear skies, slightly higher temperatures and still long nights, that didn’t coincide with our anniversary though, so January it was.
We rented a small off grid cabin to use as shelter while viewing the lights. The temperature while we were there ranged from -11 to -27 fahrenheit. It was very cold and it was possible to stay outside comfortably for very short periods of time, so we needed a place to warm up. We’d read that the lights came out mostly between midnight and three in the morning, but once we got there and talked to real people, we found that they come out when it’s dark. In Alaska in the winter that could be four in the afternoon or nine in the morning.
About 8:30 p.m., I noticed a glow on the horizon. Based on my day-to-day life experience, I assumed it was the glow from a town so I went back inside; then I remembered we were in the middle of nowhere Alaska and there WAS no town in that direction so I ran back out and there they were! Just above the horizon now, was a streak of soft green light. It was in the shape of a low rainbow and my husband thought it was a cloud bank, then it started to move. It drooped down and looked like it was melting, then it swirled and twisted, and flowed. It would fade then charge back up again. It looked like it was coming out of a single spot, like smoke from a cigarette, then it blew up all over the sky. It rolled and turned over on itself. It stayed with us for FOUR HOURS. Finally, we thought it had gone away, then suddenly, there it was again, directly over the cabin in all it’s twisty, turn-y glory, then it snapped off like someone turned off the switch.
I’ve been processing what I saw and trying to find a way to talk about it and I’m afraid that anything I say will be insufficient. Practically, it looked like glowing fog. The moon was very bright, so it wasn’t as brightly colored as it sometimes is, but that didn’t matter. It was otherworldly. Alien. Heavenly. It left us speechless. It filled us UP with words. It excited us and relaxed us. It changed something in the way we think. It changed something about the way we feel. It was basically a religious experience. It was profound. I understand why the Eskimos sing to it. I will go back someday and I will have a song prepared.