Skies on Fire

By , March 27, 2012

Every once in a while, insomnia can be a good thing.

I had to get up early in the night for a “relief break,” rising just after midnight. I almost always get up in the night—a quick and easy indicator that I’m drinking enough liquids during the day, but when I get up, it’s usually between 2:30 and 4:30 a.m.

I stepped out under a brilliant, starlit sky. Without urban light pollution, we see the Milky Way easily in the sky over our homestead. I went out to the veranda to look north. I saw aurora borealis, a hazy glowing band along the tops of the mountains. Nice, but not worth sticking around for, so I went back to bed.

About two hours later, Michelle woke me up to go see the northern lights. By then, the display had developed to the point that it would definitely be worth getting up to see.

Aurora over Haines, Alaska March 2012

Our friend, Eli, had a good view from his yard in town (Photo: Eli White).

The northern half of the sky, from the northern horizon somewhere over Skagway to the sky above LC Mountain, appeared to be on fire. Shafts and curtains of light developed and disappeared in rapid succession. At times it appeared as giant, pale green candle flames. Higher above our heads, the arcs seemed to follow the  patterns shown in depictions of Earth’s magnetic field. The vast display could not be taken in all at once. We had to turn and look all around us to try to see it all. While we focused on one area of movement, another, more dramatic sight developed elsewhere. We settled down on our “veranda” seats, tilted our heads back, and snuggled, enjoying the show.

Michelle hadn’t been able to sleep since I’d returned to bed earlier. A restless cat and thoughts of the approaching work day had kept sleep away. A session in the cool, fresh air, enjoying a fantastic display of northern lights, did the trick. When we returned to bed, she slept soundly till well past sunrise.

I heard on the news this morning that NASA deployed their chemical marker cloud that is supposed to show the jet stream. I was disappointed to hear that it was only visible on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. Ah well. We missed the manmade show, but saw Nature’s.

The University of Alaska Geophysical Institute’s Aurora Forecast listed last night’s activity as “low.” Tonight’s forecast is for “medium.” I think I’ll go pour another glass of water . . . .

You never know what might come of it.

You will find a version of the essay above, as well as writing on similar and related topics in Sacred Coffee: A “Homesteader’s” Paradigm by Mark A. Zeiger, available in print, eBook, and audiobook editions. The published version will likely be expanded, clarified, or updated from what you have just read.

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