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Northern Lights

Northern Lights
By Joe Phillips Dear Me
Northern Lights
By Joe Phillips Dear Me

Free light show! Alabama friends sent pictures of their Northern Lights last week, attaching a note that made me feel they had earned their lights and I didn’t. They were mostly green, and it looked like a waterfall or a thin curtain.

The Alabama folks were proud of their lights, and they are so cheap they probably tried to catch some in a jar.

I know people who traveled to Norway to see the lights and related the experience in spiritual terms, laced with adverbs, and then were quiet for a while as if they just came down from a trip on LSD.

That tugged at a memory of catching fireflies in Mason jars for a lantern that didn’t produce any light, but who can forget the firefly smell on your hands?

I’d like to see the Northern Lights some day in Alaska or a place where they run all night.

I fired back that there are natural lights in the sky we do not see due to “light pollution,” but they are there. I’ve seen the edge of the Milky Way as a Boy Scout while camping in a field near the Okefenokee Swamp.

The city of Waycross was the nearest town, but their lights were hidden by a forest.

We didn’t know it but we were close to a spot that one day would be certified as a “Dark Sky Place.”

We lay on blankets waiting for our eyes to adjust to the dark, watching for passing airplanes, and our patience was soon rewarded. There is a fantastic light show above your head if only you can find a place dark enough to see it.

The “Milky Way” is the edge of our galaxy containing billions of stars and planets; so much so that it looks like a cloud. On a clear night you can see it with unaided eyes.

At home I gushed to my parents at what I had seen, but it was no news to them. They both grew up on farms in a day when homes were lighted by kerosene lanterns when they were lighted at all.

Their night skies were free of light pollution and they knew the stars and constellations by name.

If you can get far enough away from town and security lights, you will be amazed at how a clear night sky can be populated like sprinkled sugar on black velvet.

There are summer meteor showers that might be visible in town but certainly on a lightly traveled road. They were called “falling stars,” but they were not really falling nor were they stars.

My brother-in-law and I used to do our talking on the dirt road that ran by his grandparent’s Kansas farm house. There was too much ambient light to fully gain our night sight, but after a half hour of no traffic, we were almost there.

Then a deputy came to investigate why two guys were standing in the middle of the road.

We thanked him for his service and for ruining our night vision with his blue strobes.

I don’t know when, if ever, I’ll see the Northern Lights, but until I do, I can be content with the night light show at hand.

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