Winter Dance

Goal: See the Northern Lights on a cold winter night
Set: 2000
Accomplished: 01.17.05

It’s funny how things don’t always turn out like we had planned. Over the course of a few years I had conjured up an image of seeing the Northern Lights for the very first time. My plan was not to seek out the natural phenomenon but instead stumble across it on a bitter cold night as I snowshoed back to my winter camp. The Lights would dance above me as I stood in the snow, mouth agape and freezing cold but too awestruck to care. My first glimpse of the Northern Lights did not happen as I was communing with nature but instead as I was driving in my car. There goes the romance to this story…

The time was 5:30 on a Monday morning. 2 1/2 hours of open road still lay before me. I was once again making the sleepy drive from Chippewa Falls to Appleton – from one side of Wisconsin to the other. Often during these early morning drives I would interrogate my sanity. The questions were unnecessary for I already knew the answers.

I was only a half-hour into my journey and already getting bored. The worst part about the drive is the darkness. The highways travel through agricultural fields of corn, soybeans, and hay. When the sun is below the horizon these fields create vast expanses of nothingness. The only visual stimulation offered is the 30 feet of asphalt illuminated by my not-bright-enough headlights. During every drive I anxiously wait for the sun to peek over the edge and throw it’s orange blanket across the frosty Earth. Sunrise was over an hour away. Would I last that long?

As my eyes searched the empty darkness for any signs of life, I noticed a faint glow coming from the north. The scene was similar to the radiation of city lights in a distant civilization except this time the glow was green instead of the familiar orange. If it were a city, why hadn’t I noticed it on previous drives? It was hard to get a good look while I was driving. My eyes shifted between the road and the strange glow. I was finally able to hold my gaze long enough to see that the light was moving! Oh my gosh! It’s the Northern Lights! My heart was racing and for the first time all morning my eyes were wide open.

The city of Wausau was fast approaching and I wanted to get a good look at the sky before I got too close to the big city lights. I pulled off the highway onto the darkest northbound country road I could find. I put the car in park but didn’t dare shut off the engine. Temperatures were below zero that morning. There before me green waves of light rippled and pulsed across the sky. The light would slowly fade as if to disappear for good but then would explode through the darkness to dance once more. Tear puddles formed in my eyes. There are things on this Earth that are too beautiful and majestic for my emotions to handle.

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