Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Prayer, Moose, and the Northern Lights

It was the last evening of my trip, and I still hadn’t seen two important things in Alaska: the Northern Lights and the moose that frequently visit Ray and Rebecca’s yard. Just before I went to bed, Rebecca joked with me “If you see the Northern Lights and a moose before you leave, I think I’ll have to join the Mormon Church! That will mean that your prayers are really working, since it’s so unlikely that you would be here for the volcano, the aurora, and a moose without divine intervention!”

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:
http://asahi-classroom.gi.alaska.edu/aurforms.htm

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!

4 comments:

Grandma Kate said...

Amazing photos! So glad you got to see the northern lights and that the moose wasn't there to chase you in your nightie!

HW said...

I've loved reading about your Alaskan adventure! I like the things you do with your life. It makes me pleased that we share some of the same DNA.

Paige said...

Fancy PJs

Sandy said...

Cindy - thanks so much for the trip to Alaska. I loved "joining" you on your vacation. Too bad about the moose thing though - I would have made green jell-o with carrots for Ms. Clack' baptism! (hee hee)