Tuesday, March 31, 2009
I HAD been praying to see the Northern Lights, or aurora. That night, though, I also prayed that if the aurora came, I would wake up for it. I’d been sleeping with my bedroom curtains open, even though Rebecca had told me that the aurora was not bright enough to wake you if you were asleep. So, I prayed that I would wake up anyway.
I went to bed at about 10:30 p.m., and about 1:30 in the morning, I found myself suddenly wide awake. I looked out the bedroom window, and sure enough, there was a huge arc of white light across the sky, from horizon to horizon. I was thrilled!
Since the Northern Lights can move quickly, I didn’t take the time to get dressed. I just threw on boots, put a coat over my nightgown, and ran outside. (Ok, I must admit that I did take the time to make sure that I did NOT lock myself out of the house again. I was pretty sure that getting locked out of the house and needing to ring the doorbell at 1:30 a.m. would definitely destroy any chances I had at winning the “House Guest of the Year” award!)
It was beautiful. You can see the different forms that the aurora can take on this website here:
I was seeing the homogeneous arc, which is the least active form of the aurora (meaning it doesn’t move or “dance” like the other forms do). I stood there and watched it for as long as my nightgown and I could stand to be in the cold. I took several photos.
I went back to bed and woke up again at 2:30 a.m. The aurora was still in an arc across the sky, but was now significantly wider than it was the first time, and seemed to be broken into separate strands, or whisps of light, instead of a solid arc like it had been earlier. Again, I went outside and took pictures for a few minutes.
At 3 a.m. I went outside again, but now in addition to the arc, there were several large “folds” of greenish-white light in the sky above Ray and Rebecca’s house. To get a good photo of that, I needed to walk down their long driveway.
I thought about that for a minute. Rebecca had told me that when Ray’s kids were waiting for the bus each morning, she would never let them walk down to the end of the driveway, because that took them across a path that the moose who frequently visited their yard would take. She liked them to stay closer to the house until they saw the bus, to minimize the chances that they would encounter a moose as they waited.
I remembered how Rebecca joked that if I saw both the aurora and a moose, she’d join the Mormon Church. As happy as I would be for Rebecca if she joined the Mormon Church, I really did NOT want to meet a moose in the driveway in my pajamas, and so I prayed as I walked “Please don’t let there be a moose in the driveway tonight!”
My prayers were answered and I didn't meet a moose. Sorry Rebecca! ;-)
Rebecca and Ray got up at 5 a.m. so Ray could prepare for work, and the aurora was out again then. This time, the large arc was gone, and the aurora took the “Rising Vapor column” form—it was a big green vertical stripe of light, which moved quickly and within a few minutes folded up like a scroll and was gone.
Once the aurora was gone, Rebecca took this photo of me in my boots, coat, and nightgown, to help me remember the experience.
Unfortunately, none of the aurora photos I took turned out. (I definitely need to get a tripod and figure out what I’m doing if I want to take night shots!)
The good news is, my friend Elias who I met on my earlier Aurora Viewing tour was also watching the aurora from a field in Fairbanks that night. Here are some of the images he captured:
The aurora has different colors, depending upon which gas in the atmosphere is being hit by the electrons of the solar winds, and the altitude of that gas. This website explains how the aurora gets its different colors: http://asahi-classroom.gi.alaska.edu/color.htm
Here is the Aurora in one of it's more active forms:
I feel very lucky and blessed to have seen the aurora, especially since the only reason I was still in Alaska was because of the eruption of Mt. Redoubt. I also feel very lucky to have friends like Rebecca and Ray. Thank you both so much for the wonderful Alaska experience I enjoyed with you!
Monday, March 30, 2009
Ray drives through the town of North Pole (which is 15 miles SOUTH of Fairbanks!) every day on his way to work. Even though he had the day off that day, he was kind enough to take Rebecca and me there to check it out.
The town of North Pole takes its responsibility to be the representative of Christmas seriously. That’s what makes it so fun to visit.
The street lights are candy canes:
The post office has Christmas wreaths, even in March:
The streets have fun names, like these:
The bus stops, playground equipment, and even the Senior Citizen Center have a Christmas theme:
This is the entrance to the local welding shop:
Even the pole that holds up the McDonalds sign is a candy cane!
We stopped at Santa’s house, which was closed for the day. But, we did get to drop off some mail for him:
And get our picture taken by the slightly scary, enormous statue of him out front:
Ray works at a coal-fired power plant at Eielsen Air Force Base. Since we were already close by, he was kind enough to take us there and give us a tour. It was great! We got to wear bright green hard hats and ear plugs as we climbed up, down, and around the plant. I was impressed with the conveyor belts carrying coal, the bright orange of coal burning in the boilers, the generators they powered, and the amazingly clean smoke stacks (which I didn’t realize were smoke stacks at first, even though I was standing right next to them, because their equipment did such a good job of capturing the ash and not releasing it to the environment).
One of the highlights was taking a ride on the train that carries the coal into the plant. Here’s a photo of the coal train from the top of the plant:
Here’s a shot of me, Rebecca, and Ray just after finishing our ride on the coal train. Thank you Ray and your coworkers for making this happen!
As if that were not already a totally amazing day, when we returned back to Fairbanks, we had the chance to go to the home of one of Rebecca’s friends. Her name is Jane, but Rebecca and all of their other friends call her “Reindeer Jane”, to distinguish her from the other two Jane’s they are also friends with.
Reindeer Jane and her husband have three pet reindeer, and they were kind enough to give me the opportunity to interact with them. Thanks for sharing Ruby, Olive, and Willow with us, Jane!
Sunday, March 29, 2009
I sent the following email to my coworkers:
Some of them wrote funny emails back, like:
I was scheduled to fly home from Alaska today, but because of the eruption of Mt. Redoubt near Anchorage today, my flight was cancelled. I'm on the phone trying to book a new flight, and it looks like I won't be able to get out of Alaska until tomorrow. So, I'll be missing our Tuesday morning meeting.
Thanks, and I'm guessing I'll see you on Wednesday morning.
Excuses, excuses. :-) Have a safe trip home.
That meant I had a bonus day in Alaska, which I’ll write about in a later post. The best part about it, though, was that this extra day gave me the opportunity to see the Northern Lights.
It's not every day that you can blame an extension to a vacation on a volcano. Well done! ;)
Sort of reminds me of the time that a baseball game was canceled unexpectedly in Idaho Falls. The paper the next day listed the cause as 'game canceled on account of squirrels'. If that sounds weird it was because it was a night game and some squirrels accidently had a shock and short circuited the main light poles behind home plate. Not as cool as a volcano. :)
The following morning, Tuesday, I again got up bright and early to the news that the volcano had erupted again, and my flight had been cancelled again. So, again I wrote to my coworkers:
Rebecca was concerned about me missing two extra days of work, and so she decided to write a note to my boss and coworkers. As a teacher, she had seen all types of excuse notes, filled with all types of excuses, and she drew upon that experience as she hand wrote this note:
Ummm...I know I used this excuse already, but the volcano erupted again and my flight got cancelled again. They currently have me booked on a 10 p.m. flight tonight, flying home overnight, so I'm pretty sure I won't be back for Wednesday.
See you when I'm looking at you (hopefully sooner rather than later),
To Whom It May Concern:
Please excuse Cindy Conlin from work March 23-24 due to the Mt. Redoubt volcano eruption.
She was not sick.
Her "grandmother" did not die.
And the dog did not eat her plane ticket.
We just didn't count on the volcano erupting . . . and erupting . . . and erupting. (Any future Alaksa trips will be booked via local cruise lines to avoid this problem.)
Thank you for your time and consideration of her work absences.
(English Teacher 1983-84)
Here you see the Caribou, leaping into water, with its antlers visible: