This year, my eightieth, could be a downer–the loss of many friends, arthritis (a real pain in the neck for most of the year), a cough that wouldn’t go away–but I choose not to go that way. Instead there is much to cheer. I’m almost eighty and I’m still doing the things I love, hiking, traveling, spending time with family and friends, doing my bit to repair the world. And I have checked off another item on my list of things I have wanted to do all my life–not a bucket list, I refuse to call it that–it’s my dream list. Last summer I saw the Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis, something I have dreamed about ever since I first heard of them.
Here’s how it happened. In August we went on a Road Scholar trip to Alaska and the Yukon. (That was on another list, states I had not ever visited.) I had been researching the Aurora Borealis for a trip in the winter, looking at Alaska, Norway, Greenland, etc. At the hotel in Fairbanks, Alaska, I was talking to the desk clerk. I had learned that there are severe fogs in some winter months in Fairbanks, and I asked the clerk what would be the best time to return to see the Northern Lights. He said, “You don’t have to come back in the winter. The lights are there all year long, when conditions in the atmosphere are right, only you can’t see them when there’s too much daylight.” He continued, “They were visible just last night. If you like, I can leave a note for the night clerk to call your room if the lights are visible tonight.”
At 2 a.m., the call came. Don and I grabbed our glasses and put on our jackets over our pajamas. I didn’t even tie my shoes. We went out on the street, and there they were. They covered the whole sky from one horizon to the other like moving water, or the look of rain falling fall away. But these lights moved. Circles and lines. We walked down the middle of the street to a park we had seen earlier, where there was more darkness. For a while we just wandered around, looking at the sky. There was a great sense of camaraderie among the few of us out on the street. Some were taking timed exposures of the sky, but we hadn’t thought to grab cameras.
Next morning we reported our adventure to our group, and that night, in Dawson City, a number of them were out on the street at 2. Don and I went out at midnight, too early, it turned out, so we missed a second chance. The picture was taken by out tour guide, Murray Lundberg.