The one and only time I ever saw the aurora borealis I was in Algonquin Park in Northern Ontario, a counselor at Camp Tamakwa, near Huntsville.

It was not the most spectacular presentation, I was told by those who have seen such, but it was spectacular for me.

Through the mosquitoes I could see this luminous white fluid, rather like milk, flowing through transparent pipe-like things. It was the oddest sight. The sky was filled with these pipes, coiling up, down, and around, with this milk flowing through it. It went on for hours.

And even stranger, was a crackling sound, almost like the sound of electricity. This gave the final surreal touch to the whole experience.

This was over thirty years ago, but it is a vision I can't forget.

Above the arctic circle, Aurora Borealis is not too uncommon thing to see. I lived in Muonio (in Finnish Lapland), and the northern lights in Lapland are something I will never forget.

Finnish name for this phenomenon is "Revontuli" (fox's fire). A children's comics series Minttu had an illustration for this that I will remember forever: A fox sitting on top of fjeld next to a fire, with the flames coloring the sky.

A cosmic wind scattered
the light-seeds.

They fell into the lake
and we lost them.

Except for a few that I saw
in your palm.

You lit cigarettes
and told me
you needed
something unholy
to keep you down here
on this rock next to me.

But I’d given up the habit
of standing on the ground

so I took from you instead
stalks of white light to chew.

They were juicy and fat
from the holding
and we sat
in the cold while I sucked
them to nothing.

“It won’t be long,”
you told me
“before the streetlights
eat them all.”

This description of the Aurora borealis was given by Carl Weyprecht*, leader of an Austro-Hungarian expedition to Franz-Joseph Land (located to the north of Russia, at latitude 80N, longitude 55E) in the 1870s:

Total silence reigns in the endless icy polar regions. Nature is silenced by the cold. On the southern horizon however, there is a faint light visible—an arc of Northern light. Slowly the arc gets brighter as it gradually climbs higher and higher in the sky. The form of the Northern light is stable and its colour is uniformly green. The arc stays quiet and calm as it rises further toward the zenith. Suddenly another, just as regular an arc, appears on the southern horizon and soon after this, several new arcs. In a moment there are seven arcs in the sky, all moving toward the north.

Suddenly a band forms, showing much brighter light than the arcs. Its movements are rapid. As in ever-changing play, the band varies both in form and in colour. Small light waves travel uninterruptedly from west to east. All this happens simultaneously, as the band itself undulates and winds itself into a spiral as if it is a mysterious magic curtain in the sky.

The light intensifies and the movements become more and more rapid. The upper and lower edges of the band show colours of the rainbow, especially different hues of red. As the band once more approaches the zenith, it suddenly breaks into a vast bunch of long rays. These all originate from one point. We are offered a magnificent display, straight from the focus. The light waves dance as if coupled around this one single point. This fantastic corona of Northern light disappears for a short while—just in order to reappear once more in different colours. The rays now dance up and dance down, faster and faster. The whole sky is just one wavy and stormy sea of violent flames. The entire icy view is lit and strong illumination creates fantastic shadows on the ground. Then, unexpectedly, this all vanishes unbelievably fast. The Northern lights are an imposing fireworks display—incomprehensible in their scale, even for the most vivid imagination. No paint, no brush and no word can truly describe their glory.

There's a serious scientific write-up of the aurora—both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial—on the aurora node.

*Weyprecht died on 29 March 1881. This text is thus in the public domain. See for more information (auf deutsch)

Astroly, god of the night, was unhappy. Not because of any mundane thing that gods become unhappy about, but rather a very large, very special thing. Thrope, the god of the earth and people, therefore the most important god, had decided to have a party on Earth. He was going to invite all of the gods, and so this would be a very large, and a very, very special party. Astroly had fallen into Thrope’s bad graces, because Thrope thought the night should be warmer and brighter, like the day, placing the world in two stages: day and dusk. Thrope is a good, kind god, thought Astroly, but he can be very stubborn. Anyway, he just HAD to get into Thrope’s good graces, and perhaps even save the calm and beauty of night. How could he impress Thrope that much?

Two weeks later, Astroly still hadn’t thought up any brilliant ideas. He considered making a rainbow appear during the night, but the moon did not give the right amout of light. The party was only a week away, and he had no ideas. He couldn’t think of anything to impress Thrope. He sighed, and went back to the now-ingrained routine of thinking up an idea, testing it, then throwing it away.... A couple of days later, a messenger owl appeared, and informed him that Thrope was moving the party four days later, because Thrope was having problems with the humans discovering fire. Thrope was planning on giving the humans fire during the party as a gift, so now he had to extinguish the fires. At this point, the owl started flying away, as he called over his shoulder : "And he's having some slight trouble..." One night, as Astroly was flying around the world, he noticed that ice, when hit with moon light, soometimes sparkled and shined. Oh well he thought. I can’t use it. Or can I? He quickly went over every scheme he had thought up, but none of them worked. Sigh. Maybe it would be best if I just gave up, he thought. I’m certainly not doing any work here and now.He flew on for some time, and pretty soon it was day. He didn’t like being in the sun, because it made him weak, but it wouldn't kill him. So, he flew on. Suddenly, he saw a glorious sight : a rainbow. Too bad rainbows can’t appear during the night. Then he thought of the ice, and stopped in midair. As his wings stopped beating, he plummeted like a rock, and only regained himself in the nick of time. With hopeful new thoughts in his head, he flew on to see Prismus, the god of light and rainbows.

Astroly was a tad slower getting home because he had a bit extra to hold him down, though his thoughts were bouyant, and he got to his abode in time to make a special surprise for all the guests. At the party, everything was going smoothly. Gods were getting a bit woozy, Thrope had given the humans fire, and some of the shows were spectacular. Amazing, really, thought Astroly. I hope they’ll be as amazed with my performance as I am with theirs. Time flew, as it does when you are enjoying any activity, and the air was starting to get smoky. “Hah! Maybe I gave humans too much fire!” shouted Thrope. Everyone laughed, for if anything, Thrope had only given one tribe one burning stick. Besides, they, and Thrope, were a bit drunk, and everybody knows that you just DON'T insult a god, especially a drunk one! And the alcohol was helpfully firing off nerve cells in their collective brains, envisioning horribly mutilating, cruel, and unusual things that Thrope could do in a drunken rage. Astroly noticed the smoke, and decided to see if the smoke helped or hindered his project. He flew up, set up his materials, and flew down. As he gazed up, he decided it actually helped his project. He flew up, took his stuff down, and then just as he got back, he heard his name being called by Thrope : “Astroly! C'mere down here and show us whacha got!” Obviously, drunk gods sometimes forget their grammar.

Astroly compliantly trudged back up, but before he set up his grand presentation, he called down to the gods to please not look up until he asked them to. There was a murmur of astonishment in the crowd, for it was not common for a god to ask anything of another god. They were usually very self-reliant. When the gods had resumed their chatter, Astroly started to paint the sky with the paints he had made. He was rather proud of these paints, for he had made them by taking the same paint that Prismus used to make rainbows, then crushing the ice that never melted into the paint, thereby getting a paint that would shine in the night. When he was finished, he called down : “Done!” All the gods looked up at once, including Thrope, for they were all eager to see what Astroly had done, for to keep the night, the show would certainly have to be impressive.

There was a collective gasp from everyone in the crowd, and then many started to grin, for what they saw was one of the most beautiful they had ever seen. It was like a rainbow of the night, and what was more, it was not just a simple, misty, tenuous arch that was hard to see, it was many curtains of shimmering, glowing, effervescent light that was very, very easy to see. When Astroly touched down, all the gods started to clap, and then suddenly they were silent. Thrope was pushing up to the front of the crowd, and when he got there, he stood over Astroly, his face was emotionless stone. Suddenly, he burst out in a grin, and everyone started applauding. Thrope bear hugged Astroly, and said “Mah boy...” slurring his words, "Ahm very impressed." He staggered slightly. "This night fire you've made is quite beautiful." He paused for a moment, and everyone held their breath. "My may keep the night!" The gods all cheered, for they liked Astroly and were fond of the night. That is how auroras are formed

Disclaimer: This is JUST A MYTH that I thought up for a project in seventh grade. For the real science behind auroras, see aurora

Aurora Borealis. A trillion tiny ionized particles blasting into the planet's magnetic field at terminal velocity. Gusts of ions exploding into streams, rivers, torrents of colour, carving channels across this semi-dark, urban sky.

And I, nestled at the foot of a hydroelectric tower, my eternal company in this landscape of constructed aloneness, look up, transfixed, into a cascading sky. A rumbling, clanging, squealing freight lumbers by to the north, speaking of endless labours in ever-changing yet blankly equal worldscapes of trees and buildings, mountains and rubble. Above me hangs a billowing, wave-strewn canopy, blue-green like a tropical sea, a silk parachute rising on a warm, June breeze with children running underneath and balls bouncing overhead.

A wall of flames rises to the north-east, crackling as it consumes the swathes of low-density box industry and faceless, identical houses and endless asphalt cemeteries. It leaves the moraine untouched. I hold out my hands, warming my palms in the red glow of this atmospheric conflagration. I see Wonderland slowly consumed; twisted, flame-wracked steel frames collapsing in on themselves and a mountain of blackened concrete oozing, melting, gushing through vendor-lined promenades to lap at the shores of adjacent subdivisions. I see an inferno rushing down the road to Barrie and beyond, consuming the needle that delivered thousands of cancer cells into the wilderness. A fireball gushes through this hundred mile long Swiss tunnel, petrol trucks and camper vans exploding while others, thrown hell-bound into reverse, tumble off the roadway to be swallowed by the remaining forests.

The lines are buzzing, and quarter-loaded passenger carriers glide silently overhead, their navigation lights blinking like a message struggling through an ocean fog. Another train rumbles by, passing rusted rumours and complaining about the cold. Cars and trucks and glowing buses power back and forth while I sit here waiting for them to all keel over. And I'm tired of waiting. The aurora fades, withdrawing back into the safe comfort of icy space as ruffled, doilly clouds sweep in to slow dance over the waning moon. The towers, still standing forever motionless, unflinching, reminding me that I still don't know what I'm waiting for.

The Northern Lights are auroras. Auroras look like curtains of light in the night sky around the north and south magnetic poles. Sometimes these can be seen closer to the equator in more populated areas. In the northern hemisphere, they are often called the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis, in the southern hemisphere they are known as Aurora Australis or the Southern Lights. They are caused by an interaction of the Solar Wind and the Earth's Magnetic Field.

The solar wind is a stream of plasma (electrons and protons) which constantly flows from the Sun out past all of the planets in the solar system. When these charged particles meet the Earth's magnetic field, it directs them to the north and south magnetic poles, just like the electromagnets in a television or oscilloscope guide the beam of electrons across the screen. The particles are directed to areas known as the auroral ovals. These ovals are permanent features of our upper atmosphere and constantly have visible auroras. The majority of us don't tend to see them though because of their location. The southern auroral oval usually resides over Antarctica and the northern oval is frequently over areas like Fairbanks and Anchorage. The ovals are not uniform shapes and bulge on the side of the poles opposite to the Sun. This means that the larger areas of auroral activity occur at local midnight which conveniently makes them easier to see. Relative to the Sun, these bulging areas stay put while the planet rotates beneath them.

When there is a solar flare, the solar wind picks up, we get more plasma travelling at faster speeds. When this hits the magnetic field, the force of the extra particles causes the ovals to expand and spread out over a larger area, the lower limits getting closer to the equator. The northern oval can at times spread as far down as Europe or the southern states of America.

Electrons from the plasma enter our atmosphere, strike atoms or molecules and pass on energy, the energy is soon released again as visible light in the form of a photon. The colour of the light released depends on what they hit and how much energy is passed on. Electrons hit oxygen atoms above 200km and release red light, between 100 and 200 km they hit nitrogen and release blue light. This also gives out a secondary electron which when it hits an oxygen atom gives out green light. Below 100km, nitrogen molecules glow crimson. The green light is easier to see than the reds which are in turn easier to see than the blue light. This means that to the observer, there seems to be a lot more green and red in the mix.

The colour is usually the first thing people notice about auroras, the second is the patterns that form and shift. The plasma of the solar wind contains both electric and magnetic fields which interact with the Earth's magnetic field. Because the solar wind is not a constatnt stream of plasma but gusts like wind here on Earth, it causes ripples and distortions in the Earth's magnetic field. The colours are caused by particles of plasma and the particles are channelled to Earth by our magnetic field so when you see the auroral arcs or "curtains", you're looking at the Earth's magnetic field lines in motion.

Curls form as small kinks develop in straight auroral arcs. Huge spirals that fill the sky form as auroral currents twist the magnetic field lines. As the currents increase, auroral arcs brighten and begin twisting into the spiral form, when the current decreases, the spiral fades and unwinds again.

Many other types of movements are seen in a good auroral display. The movement of a charged particle creates a magnetic field around the particle itself. As vast numbers of these particles follow the Earth's magnetic field lines towards the upper atmosphere, their magnetic fields interact with each other and with the Earth's magnetic field, creating the complex effects that are often seen.

Because auroras are intensified by solar flares, we can to an extent predict their arrival. The SOHO satellite constantly observes the Sun & sees solar flares coming. We get about 2-3 days warning before their effects are felt here on Earth. To receive email telling you when there's a flare headed our way, you can sign up to the space weather mailing list at you can also find out up to the minute scientific info on the Sun-Earth environment.

info gained from: - the Poker Flat Research Range

Sometimes we're only skin deep,
And trying to be infinite.

While using satellites
They think they found Noah's ark,
Which means there was one.
Then history happened as if without,
When all this time
There's been an ark in the world.

If I lost my memory,
If I drowned in a Zen tsunami,
If nothing was or would be,
Would I know you by heart?
Would I fall in love again?
Would you recognize me?

Last night in the northern
Thule you said you can hear the aurora.
Last night the night sky burned green before the stars and
Tremulous glaciers paused to permit the sound.
Last night a choir of lost children sang beyond the northern ice:
The echoes off the sun of our voices unborn.

When our illusory blood and flesh
Wear shards of infinity,
Won't forever make everydream real?
Electric echos undampened as luminous clouds
Etched voices on stars
Ending never, always, eternal.

Most New Jerseyians don't think of Alaska. Some have never heard of it. The names of Alaskan cities conjure no mental notion beyond a vague high school remembrance of Jack London trying in vain to start a fire and dying for want of a flint.

We were born in a bubble that extended from Manhattan to Philly. Everything inside had a reference position on the Turnpike or the Parkway. Exit numbers were the GPS coordinates of everything we needed to locate. Beyond was terra incognita. Dragons and waterfalls. The bottomless pit from which emerged our grandparents and chicken chow mein.

Though I loved everyone, I could not stay there. It was not my home.

As women are lunar, bears are solar.

When the bears awaken for spring, they go hunting
And the radio says when you encounter a bear
You shouldn't run because bears chase and kill running things.
They can't help themselves.
So when you encounter one, stand your ground.
Though the black bear is the most human-amenable of the ursine family,
In hand-to-claw combat, no human is a match for a bear.
So when you encounter a bear and are standing your ground
Your continued existence is at the pleasure of the animal.
This can be unsettling to the human,
As truth frequently is.

As the lives of men follow curved open arcs, so women are perfect circles. And all unanswered wishes go somewhere to wait.

While travelling in Greenland an Inuit elder told the tourist she could hear the Aurora Borealis. There was a time to go and a place to stand, and even within sight of civilization she could hear the lights.

So at the appointed time the tourist woman went to the ice. She saw night sky fill with rippling green clouds that blotted then revealed the stars. At first she heard only the frigid Arctic breeze fluttering past her ears. Then she there was a tone, impure and wavering like that of a child learning to sing. Then the sound grew stronger and she could just hear it over the wind. It was joined by other notes like other tiny voices in the distance over the horizon.

And she wanted to believe she was imagining it. That it was a mental fabrication.

That there are no voices of children yet to be.

But a woman exists at the pleasure of the heavenly gyre.

And men are just distant children
Who wish themselves into the wilderness
Never again to be seen.

It was morning. She asked him, "How do you like your oatmeal?"
"Uh oh."
"Why are you asking me this?"
"I want you to be happy. How do you like it?"
"It's oatmeal. There isn't a way to it. I never learned any oatmeal styles."
"There are as many as there are people."
"Ok, then. Lumpy."
"I try very hard to make it smooth."
"Don't try so hard. I'll be happier."
"Oatmeal is not supposed to be lumpy."
"How do you know? Is it on the label? Is there an edict from the god of oatmeal - 'thou shalt eradicate all lumpage?'"
"Don't get smart-mouthed with me."
"I'm trying to be funny."
"Well, you're not."
"I think I'll make myself some eggs."
"But I have all this oatmeal going. You're going to make me throw it all away."
"Ok. I'll have oatmeal. Did you see the garbage on the street this morning? I picked it up on the way back from my run. I think a bear got into someone's can."
"Did you hear the aurora last night?"
"Did I -- what? Auroras don't make noise. They're light. High energy particles swimming around in the earth's magnetic field. Quantum radiation, sort of electronic thingy, up there, kind of..."
"I want a child."
"They should put a bungee cord on their garbage can. Keep the bears out."
"I want to have a baby."
"Ok. We can do that."
"No, you don't understand me. I want a child."
"You're not listening."
"Honey, the oatmeal is done, I think. And I hear you. But what would we do with one?"
"You don't do anything with a baby. It's a baby."
"We could feed it to the bears. Maybe they'd stay out of the garbage."
"That's not funny."
"I'm not trying to be funny."
"Well, you're not."
"Sweetie, I have an idea. Let's have a baby."
"Seeing as how you're looking forward to the agony of labor."
"I mean, I have the fun part. You have to go through all the -- you know."
"Look. I don't know what I'm supposed to do, now. I come down here expecting we're going to have a nice breakfast and then auroras and the babies -- how about this. I'll go back upstairs and come down again. We can start over."
"You really don't understand anything, do you."
"I'm just a guy. I don't know who you think you married. I'm just some guy."
"It sounded like children singing."
"Like children."
"Like a choir. Like a church in the distance."
"What were they singing?"
"I love you, honey."
"I want us to be a family."
"I do, too. I love you. Can we have breakfast now?"

My dearest, in summer I was led to my dad's grave
And there placed a picture
Of us, when we were young.
And I asked the cold earth, "Father, are all sons haunted by dreams?
Dad, what advice have you for me? What have become of the roof and the stairs you built?
Where are the songs you sung?" And touched the name on the stone, my own.
As if that was the warmth and curve of him.
No. I am what is left of him.

I have been a dream's captive
And inconsiderate of reality's truth.
To intrude upon the southern void
And to the north and the bears and the sky full of voices.
Flowing inevitably toward the invisible inevitable
Wishing well to those drowning in the wake.

Dearest, when I am gone missing, I will have returned my voice.
And this is how you will find me:
Where the sky rings, wait for them.
A phalanx of thickly clothed children will lead you to my grave,
And stand upon it cheerfully emiting stacatto breath clouds,
Legs twiching, hands darting, fingers pointing, all saying,
"This is where we put him. This is where we last saw our father.
Here beside the ice.
May we go now?
Can we have our cookie?"

I will never forget the time I saw the Northern Lights. The actual sighting was somewhat anti-climatic. It wasn't at the peak of an emotional high, or the fulfilment of a life dream. The scene we saw was short lived, and far from the most spectacular sighting. Overall there was a feeling in the group of relief. Finally we could go home and all of that time, longing, and money hadn't gone to waste. There was a gladness we didn't have to suck on the taste of disappointment. In that moment we really did resent that taste, and perhaps rightly; we were on holiday.

Tromsø gives an eerie feeling in the winter. The sun never rises above the horizon but by the middle of the day it is getting pretty close. The impression isn't that of constant darkness, but of an elongated day. The first light of morning is extended till midday, at which point the evening sets in and there are 12 hours of waiting for midnight. There are long evenings at my flat in Edinburgh too. In the summer sitting on the meadows and drinking with friends. In the winter walking home from University in the dark, seeing your breath in the air, terminating with a cup of tea in a cold room preparing for bed.

There is really no substitute for that feeling found in the long evening. It is a certain calmness and contemplativeness which makes your eyes feel larger than usual as if you are finally seeing the world as a whole. Alcohol helps too. At those times I have a habit of noticing some subtle, yet beautiful aspect of the evening, such as how the streets lights reflect on the wet pavement; the glistening of the concrete. These are the times I wish most I had a photographic memory. I wish I could remember these moments for recall when I really need them, as a little bite of escapism. Standard memory is no substitute. It does not capture the minute details - and these are where the emotion is locked up.

For a memory to fix, and the emotion to stay, what these moments require is some officiated event. The night you finally got together with your current girlfriend. The time you stayed up all night and lost your shoes running over the common.

The things I remember about the Northern Lights:

  • The taste of the cod, potatoes and bacon served to us by the skipper. His Norwegian accent, and friendliness. How he invited me into the cabin. He ate fish every day.
  • The meek Chinese couple that shared the boat with our party. Their quiet communication and broken English. How young they seemed and their private and deep companionship. The way the man talked about their work-based separation half way across the world. How they only met for holidays.
  • The way in which the small waves hit the boat. Their peaks, troughs, and how the light from the island reflected onto and across the sea.
  • The fabric on the chairs inside the living area. The glow of the kitchen. The mechanism for the ships toilet and the stiffness of the door lock. The sharp contrast to the temperature outside.
  • The fibreglass hardness of the ship's sides. The bobbled textures. The soft muffled rumble of the ship's engine.
  • The image of my aunt with about twenty layers of clothing on. More fabric than human. Shuffling around the ship like a snowman.
  • And of course finally the Northern Lights themselves. Milky and pale across the sky. Little more than a turquoise cloud, waving and wandering through the air.

Seeing the Northern Lights was something childish for me. It was unlike the awe of a mountain range. It was more like the joy of childhood imagination. It was grace - a treat disconnected from my longings, hopes and fears. And finally it delivered to me that acute memory of the details of a beautiful evening.

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