Borealis in Wonderland

Just another Friday night, driving home at about 9:45. Except this time, I’m accompanied by my daughter, Catie, who’s been getting a lot of ink lately. She’d spent her Spring Break out here in the sage-laden hills of outer Spanish Springs, and she had an early flight to catch in the morning. We were going home to pack up, review her visit and conk out. We had no idea that the best action of the week was about to take place.

We turned for the last five miles of our journey, pointed northeast. That we were headed in that particular direction turned out to be a lucky break.

I didn’t notice the light at first, and neither did Catie. I mean, I saw it, but didn’t really notice it. Being a radio morning man, I’m much more accustomed to seeing the first low glow of dawn’s light behind the eastern hills than your average Joe/Jane, and so this glow didn’t instantly strike me as anything out of the ordinary. After a few seconds, though, some of my cranial cynics began to mutter. One said, “Hey, ace, it’s kind of a weird time for the sun to be coming up, isn’t it?” Hmm. I wondered why I was calling myself “ace.” By now, it was 10 p.m., and yes indeedy, that’s a durn funny time for sunrise.

So, OK, the fact that this light was not dawn was dawning. I pointed out the low, steady glow to Catie. It hovered over much of the north and northeastern rim, a long line of whitish light, not rising into the sky. She wondered if it was fire. Nope, I said. No smoke. Not red enough.

She wondered if it was a town. Nope, I said, although I had to think. That’s exactly what this light looked like. It looked as if Las Vegas was on the other side of the hills. But I double-checked my orientation, and assured her (and me) that the next collection of city lights in that direction large enough to cause that kind of glow was probably Saskatoon.

By then, I knew what was happening.

“Kid,” I asked, affecting a pseudo-worldly tone, “you ever seen the aurora borealis?”

“The what?”

“The Northern Lights.”


It was cool. It was very cool. We pulled into my driveway, pretty sure that this glow was indeed the aurora, but still seeking that clinching confirmation. Then, a long, thin red shaft of light just kind of oozed into the northwest sky, where it sort of subtly morphed into a fairly vivid, fairly large, reddish-orange smudge in the starfield. Showtime.

Ole Aurora was here, courtesy of two huge solar flares that erupted on Wednesday the 28th. Knowing Ms. Borealis doesn’t drop by these parts all that often, the kid and I were delighted to spend the next hour outside, wrapped in blankets, watching a gentle, yet dazzling phenomenon that proved to be some of the finest family entertainment our universe can provide.