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The aurora borealis, or northern lights (which I’ve heard a few people around here call “The Lady” or simply “She”), has been on fire lately around Fairbanks and many are romanced into speechlessness by Her apparent power. I love this quote from photographer Andy Long:

Some believe that whistling and making other sounds at the aurora will either cause it to become more active, use it as a way to speak to their ancestors or even that the aurora will come down and take their heads off, thus making them observe it in silence and awe.

Needless to say, those of us who love to watch the Lady dance are getting by on minimal sleep. But last night, since the Geophysical Institute forecasted a level 4 on their scale for January 8, 2015, meaning that the aurora will be more than moderately active tonight and well-worth risking frostbite to watch Her gyrate a zillion shades of green, I slept like a toddler.

This morning, after dropping little r at his preschool I hit College Coffeehouse for a soy latte and the ritual hammering out of my sure-to-be-a-blockbuster novel.

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Soon, however, I became distracted watching a strikingly handsome Athabaskan lad of perhaps 20 years, buried in a too large, zipped up willow and spruce checkered parka, perseverate this ritual for an hour:

       1.  Sleep 5 minutes on the brown couch.

       2.  Shuffle up to the counter looking shifty.

       3.  Grab a paper cup or a spoon or napkin.

       4.  Slog back to the couch.

       5.  Unzip and stuff the cup or spoon or napkin into a big black sports bag.

       6.  Zip up the bag.

       7.  Head out the door with the bag.

       8.  Return 5 minutes later.

       9.  Repeat.

     10.  Repeat.

     11.  Repeat.

Oh, how I wanted to approach the young man, buy him a hot chocolate, engage him in an exploratory conversation, learn more about him, his ritual, what he had for breakfast, his mama! I wanted to make him a character in a short story about a kid who goes blind and crazy after watching too many auroras.

But it was approaching noon-thirty, the brightest part of our four and a half hour day, and I’d promised myself a wee wander through Creamer’s Field where little r and I spend summer afternoons climbing trees and watching sandhill cranes twirl and shimmer like the aurora. I step-sevened it, jumped into the Subaru and drove out College Road a mile or so until I saw Fairbanks’ premier bird refuge. Creamer’s Field was definitely not the same place in winter as in summer! No birds, not even a raven, and the ponds were frozen. Yet the beauty was breathtaking, and not just because it was 10 below as I stood there watching and snapping photos in silence and awe.

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Aurora borealis photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Quote by Andy Long from
Photographing the Aurora Borealis: How to Shoot the Northern Lights, http://www.notablequotes.com/a/aurora_borealis_quotes.html#1U1t3QJl2WHoCCom.99

17 thoughts on “Winter Attractions

    • Thanks, Lisa. I’m convinced this is a weird and wonderful place, more dreamlike than real, populated by many just trying to survive the cold and isolation. The stuff of stories, perhaps?

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  1. Susan, this is so lovely. From the lady, to the mysterious youth, to the winter wonderland, seamlessly interwoven to give a snapshot of life in the far north and leave us yearning for the next installments of the stories yet to be told..

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    • Yes, Katie, Alaska does feel like a foreign land disconnected from the Lower 48 by geography, culture, climate and light. Everything is slowed down to the point where even breath becomes an event and the cry of a raven, a prayer.

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  2. I love the way you see and interpret the world, Susan– it is glorious and beautiful, and I’m always left happier for having read any of your posts, or seen your fantastic photos. Knowing that you are there, waiting for such a blessed day, warms my heart. Oh to be born into such a magical world! Beautiful post! xox

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