It was cold but we didn't care. We had been standing there for almost an
hour, just watching it.
Let me tell you how it was:
We drove about twenty minutes outside of Columbus so we could be away from the
city lights. The horizon behind us still glared with perpetual twilight, but
that was okay. To the east, the Moon was a fat bulb of light. The city light faded
as we turned to the south, in a circle, and then the glow to the west brightened
and rose higher, northwest, as a greenish glow.
It looked as if someone had taken the horizon light behind us and pulled
the center into an arc, pinned the edges, then smeared it
upward in long lines of moving green.
I'd never seen the Aurora Borealis before, only a few varied images on video
or photos. It was something that I thought I would have to drive far north to
view. I didn't expect it to land in my backyard.
The night started while hanging out at Bart's, he was adding some kind of new
gadget on his car while I, unsuccessfully, sifted through his unkempt CD
collection looking for Badly Drawn Boy's bewilderbeast album.
I gave up after almost an hour of fruitless searching. I ended up sitting
next to him and making fun of his method of stripping electrical wire. He was
planning on a trip to Tennessee the next day and was feeling 'last minute'
After a few hours of talking, we gathered up his equipment and went out to the
car to test. Sometimes I don't understand Bart's tendency to
experiment with electrical devices. He wanted a power and volume switch for the
CB radio he'd installed. I was bewildered enough at his desire for a CB radio in
the first place, let alone tear out the dashboard of a spanking new car just to
We tested it out a bit, found that his soldering skills were more than
adequate, and brought it all back inside.
The TV was on the weather and I turned up the volume.
"- a recent solar flare last week has sparked some intense Aurora
activity tonight." The guy stood before a large display of the night sky.
"The national weather service has received many phone calls this evening
regarding the phenomenon. If you get a chance, you might want to drive just
north of the city and take a look."
And we did.
It's funny how, sometimes, you click so well with your friends that you
don't even have to mention desire or will. Bart and I didn't even question
if we were going to go look. We just moved towards the door and went. There
was no way in hell we would've missed this chance.
We drove up 315 to 270 west so we could take 33 north out of town.
I was plastered to the passenger window, searching through the streetlights to
see if I could see anything at all.
And, I did.
I thought, at first, that it was my eyes playing tricks on me, or some
kind of afterglow image in my retinas. There was a haze in the sky, just
beyond the dark. I know that sounds weird, but it was something that didn't
quite make sense at first. I get so used to seeing the night sky through rows
of light or above the long lines of cityscapes where the gauzy glow hovers over it
- even on clear nights. The haze was something that I might have overlooked
if I didn't know better.
This was hands deep in all that: fistfuls of imaginary numbers, mana on the tip of my tongue or the whisper of fingertips on my temples. This was a turquoise glow behind rose hued
streetlamps. It was bright but intangible, like the crinkly sound in the back of your mind
when you've had too much to drink, or the squeal of a TV coming on in another
room. I felt like I wasn't seeing it with my eyes but something else.
The streetlamps whizzed by us as Bart kept up the speed. He kept asking if I
could see it, and what did it look like? I didn’t know how to describe it.
But, I tried.
Stare at the place beside the sun and then try to follow the bright spot
in your eye - it's something you can't really look at because it defies your
ability to see or make it reality.
Then we moved onto 33 north and into the dark, away from the stream of
lights. The road was dark for miles ahead with only a few headlights fouling the
And it was red.
That was when I knew it wasn't just my eyes because I saw the cherry
patches bleed here and there to the west. It was a red that you see when you
close your eyes in a lit room. It seems black at first, until you adjust,
then it's like red superimposed on black. This was rubies on midnight cloth.
It was like I closed my eyes and saw the stars behind my eyelids.
And this wasn't all. When I looked away at the moon I could still see that crimson in the corner of my eye.
It wasn't an illusion.
We found an exit and pulled onto a lonely road in the middle of two large
Here we could see the expanse of the whole thing. It started low in the
northwest, a shifting, lazy series of lines that meandered about halfway up the
sky in the north, then drifted back to the horizon beneath the bright moon.
And as we watched:
The lines lengthened upward for centuries, then faded away. They became dancing blue ghosts. It was a crayola chalk-color line, smeared up with dirty, rusty fingers.
Bart and I got out into the cold and felt very small. We stood just staring
I got out my phone and started calling. I called anyone I could think to
call. I wanted everyone to see this amazing thing. Or, at the very least, let me
describe it to them.
It was like this:
We stood shivering with our breaths fogging in our faces. On occasion a car
would drive by and people moved by, the world wasn't changed. I'm not sure if
anyone else in that particular field understood what was going on - or even
cared. After all, this wasn't anything big. People to the north got to see this
all the time. It was there all the time.
We followed the sights with our fingers, pointed out the lines in the sky -
wondered how high they went. I wasn't even sure exactly where the light
show actually took place... was it high above us? Or was it so tall above the
top of the world that we could see it from this far away?
I can't tell you how many times we asked each other:
"Is this just my imagination?, or did it just change again?"
At the end of a fireworks show they always set off as many as they can to
make a big ending. This had none of that bravado, none of that pretentious noise.
It didn't need it.
to the left of the moon bloomed into a red that covered half the sky. We just
gaped, awestruck at the color and clarity, and its horrifyingly sudden appearance.
exploded red and the light lingered and drifted and moved... up and out, waterspider quick, across the stars. As we got into the
car, the blossom focused into a massive pillar of light that towered from the lower horizon to high above the line of the
We sat in the warmth, covering over the green clock light with our hands,
until the column faded, and then we drove home. The sun flared, the skies
danced, the world moved on... nothing changed.
This is what happened:
Nothing happened... and it was amazing.