10 Aug 2013 Sky Symphony in Fairbanks, Alaska
I was standing on a snow-crusted field outside of Fairbanks, Alaska staring at the dancing shimmer of lights, the Aurora Borealis, in the nighttime sky. The lights spoke directly to me. They moved, surrounded, caressed, freed me from my body, then invited me to join their cosmic ballet.
I was overwhelmed. Tears of joy iced my eyelashes with sparkly crystals in the frigid air. My feet were firmly planted on the icy snowpack, but I was alone and fearless in the sky lifting higher and higher riding on the dips and peaks of light.
My husband, Larry, and I visited Fairbanks in February. February in Fairbanks is not tourist season. Most Southern Californians like us, who shiver and moan when the temperatures fall below 50°, are not happy to learn that, here in Fairbanks, it was a warm day in February if the thermometer edged up to 0°. That fact is enough to keep most tourists away.
Fairbanks hosts a spectacular, championship World Ice Art competition in February, but that was not the goal of our visit. We wanted to see the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights. Viewing the aurora is best done on dark, clear nights from 12am to 3am…no moon, no clouds, no city lights, and no residual daylight. Each evening we dressed carefully for our adventure fumbling with unfamiliar layers of sweaters, long underwear, fleece, down and heavy boots feeling like kids in our bulky snowsuits as we stuffed ourselves into the car. The first two nights were duds, but on the third we hit pay dirt.
We drove to Poker Flats, a University of Alaska research facility located north of Fairbanks. This isolated campus resembled a moonscape, pockmarked with dull groups of grey block buildings, military-like antennas and geodesic domes scattered along the heavy layer of snow next to the road. It was midnight when our car entered a security gate and drove to a building on top of the hill. We entered. Then zigged and zagged through the mazes of an institutional building, down nondescript hallways, metal stairways and doors until we stood in directly in front of our final destination-another unpromising set of heavy, grey metal doors.
I shot my husband an impatient look, “What is this?” His eyes silently communicated, “Just wait it will be okay.” I yanked the knob. The door opened to flowing, red velvet blackout curtains. The vibrant, crimson color and lush fabric of the closed curtains with its’ hanging pullcord enticed like an elaborately wrapped gift.
I slowly opened the luxurious fabric, blinked and allowed my eyes to adjust to a darkened room. Then, I tentatively stepped inside. Before me was a sanctuary, framed on three sides by floor–to-ceiling windows looking out over the curved star-studded horizon. Comfy, old sofas and cushiony chairs filled the area. A decanter of brandy and some glasses rested on a small table. A quiet “Ahh” escaped my lips, and I reached for my husband’s hand. I had just unwrapped a most spectacular present. We settled in and anticipated our evening’s entertainment.
There was not long to wait before a green glow warmed the blackness and began to throb in intensity. A shout of, “Outside everyone.” We dashed through metal doors, down hallways and stairs, and out to the 20° below zero, snowy icepack. There were ten of us yelling and pointing, but I stood alone. My heart drummed with the excitement of what was to come. It did not disappoint. The show began.
Auroral Sky Symphony
Filmy curtains with green-fringe, tipped with red move rapidly across the horizon. Unexpectedly, they wrap me in their embrace. Breathtaking-heart-stopping moments, enveloped in a celestial dome of lights. Beckoning me to touch the crown then receding to the background orchestra of stars and arc. Now, the symphony proceeds more slowly, gently guiding with subtle transitions. The heavenly arc recreates to form four neon green bands that hang in silent anticipation.
My earthbound soul observes the deception of graceful simplicity in this evening’s performance. Mounds of whipped cream electrons burn even brighter above. Pieces fold in on itself; a chiffon scarf blowing in a gentle breeze then slowly moving further away. My auroral sky music recedes; a diffusion of green light fading to black sky and stars. A standing ovation.
My heart screams “ENCORE”; there is no more. Reflecting back on this experience, I need only to close my eyes to revisit the image of those magical, few moments of cosmic freedom. When anxiety, fears, or negativity threaten to lock down my spirit, I breathe deeply and feel the joy and independence of dancing in the sky with the Northern Lights.
About the Author: Susan Miller is a retired Speech Pathologist living in Los Angeles California with her husband Larry. She enjoys travelling, hiking, swimming, and writing as well as the freedom and time to do whatever she wants now that her kids are grown. Find her on Facebook.