Friday, March 24, 2023

I saw the aurora for the first time last night!

The Northern Lights. They are both more spectacular than my photos reveal, and less, too. They are like immense silent ghosts frolicking across the sky, curtains of mist, columns of smoke, here one moment, gone the next.

Photos cannot capture the size of this ephemeral event, nor the movement. Sometimes they fill the entire sky and surround you, sometimes there are only one or two giant lonely will-o-the-whisps dancing in the north. The real thing was less colorful than our photos suggest, mostly shades of white and gray, with just the barest hint of color, but the colors I saw in photos other people took last night show that conditions were better elsewhere. But it was so neat where we were, that I cannot complain.

I got to see the lights last night because of my daughter Kivi, and because of the National Weather Service out of Duluth. I’m normally asleep by 10pm but last night Kivi and I had been texting about a story idea, and my imagination was in overdrive (I never sleep very well when I’m in creative mode, regardless if it's writing or knitwear design) and I was having trouble relaxing and was weary but wide awake. So I start scrolling through Facebook on my phone when the National Weather Service post slid through my feed alerting people that the aurora was on display.

People had posted SPECTACULAR photos with ripples of electric-kelly green and bright hot pink as responses to the NWS post, and I knew I HAD to check to see if we could see them too. So I walked barefoot (27F/-3C!) onto our deck. I didn’t have my glasses on, but I thought I could see some misty lights in the sky; I went back in, crept into our bedroom and said as quietly and gently as I could, “Chris? I think the northern lights are out. It may be a bust, and it may ruin your night of sleep, but do you want to get up to see them?”

“What?” he asked sleepily.

“The National Weather Service posted that the northern lights are out. Do you want to try and see them?”

Chris sat up. “Yes.” He was very slightly grumpy and groggy, and our past experiences trying to see them had not been worth losing sleep over, so I really hoped it would be better this time.

It was. It totally was. My first hint was when Chris followed me out onto the porch and looked up, and there was this giant column of mist rising into the sky, and Chris muttered “Jesus,” under his breath. Given our lack of religious belief, that should tell you just how amazing it was.

We’ve been trying to see the lights for years, ever since we moved to Minnesota in 2004. I think I tried to see them 2 or 3 times when we lived in in a small town near Minneapolis, but that town is south of the Twin Cities which puts the metropolitan light pollution directly between us and any aurora that might have been there. And of course, we went to Duluth and Canada regularly where the conditions are better for the lights, but we did those things almost exclusively in the summer (the aurora is a winter phenomenon). Then we moved north to the Duluth area in the fall of 2020 and we thought we'd be more likely to see the lights, but in three winters, we'd not had much luck.

It’s funny - there are definitely pros and cons of moving north. We get a lot more snow, and surprisingly, winter is noticeably longer here (only 2.5 hours north of our last home). There are also no Mexican or Asian groceries in the area (something we had easy access to in the cities), and there are no good Chinese restaurants either. Access to Mexican restaurants is marginally better. Pizza Luce, Fitgers, and Duluth Grill help make up for the lack of our favorite kinds of restaurants, though. But our summers are less hot, and it’s quieter here, we have some land and space, and it’s MUCH MUCH MUCH darker, even living only 25 miles south of Duluth (240K in the metro area, as opposed to over 3 million in the MSP metro area). Our night skies are amazing and sparkly with stars and I can see the Milky Way on every clear night, something I could never see from our house in Jordan.

Love the blue wireless access point showing just under the peak of the roof.

Anyway, I’m tired today, but last night was a gift.

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