Rethinking the Northern Lights

If you ask visitors for adjectives describing the northern lights, they might say beautiful, mysterious, auspicious, captivating, haunting, inspiring, and magical.

But I’m no visitor.

I’ve been craning my neck skyward towards the aurora borealis since I was knee-high to a grasshopper and gradually I began to lose interest in their ghostly sky-dance.

Last winter, for example, if someone exclaimed that there where northern lights outside, I would saunter out, follow the pointing fingers, and render an apathetic verdict.

“Nice,” I might say.

Then I’d head back inside to the land of 60-watt bulbs with nary a second glance or thought. For me, the northern lights were no longer mysterious or haunting; they were mundane.

But last night my indifference was shattered.

I was at Mary Lake, 15 minutes south of town, visiting my friend Chris Fozard before he left the Yukon. Together with Danica Jeffery, Jared Tuck, and Ande Fozard, we hung out on the Fozards’ deck, drinking beer and checking out the stars, which were making their presence felt after their usual summer vacation.

At about midnight the aurora borealis began humbly, as tiny green-tinted wisps — the kind that could be confused with clouds. But the wisps became streaks, and the streaks intensified until they were as florescent green as nuclear sludge.

And then, as suddenly as a shotgun blast, the entire sky exploded.

The five of us, with an average age of 30, gawked childishly as we watched the effervescent perimeter of light racing to encompass the surrounding darkness, like the edge of the universe expanding after the Big Bang.

It was tough to know where to look.

I’d find myself gazing in one direction and then someone would hoot and I’d spin around just in time to see the green light swirling itself into some sort of psychedelic vortex.

It continued this way for half an hour — an awesome tango of scientific causes and mystic effects. In truth, it was a bit scary — in the best sense of the term.

After they dissipated, the five of us sat together in an impromptu moment of silence; more than anything else, I felt like I owed someone an apology. After years of being bored with the northern lights and feeling somewhat smug re: my own boredom, I had been knocked on my ass.

But how does one apologize for such smugness? Who do I owe an apology to? These are metaphysical questions, and in lieu of satisfactory answers the best I can do is change my outlook going forward.

That isn’t to say I’m going to be flabbergasted by all instances of future northern lights, but I’ll show more reverence to those who are.

To be filled with awe is a profound human experience, but to feel smugly superior to the awe-filled is lazy, and, in the end, ignorant.

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