Even as write this, trying to recapture last night’s experience under the Lady Aurora in words, the feelings are slipping away, almost as ephemeral as the lady herself. It was categorically the most wondrous night I have experienced thus far in my relatively few years of Aurora chasing. When I step back and look at the entire night I find many similarities to the the experience of childbirth: is it only false labor making me think this could be the night? Followed by early contractions quite far apart – yup, definitely going to happen. Then labor arrives full on, hardly a chance to take a breath. Crowning and delivery (minus the pain and the need to bring anything home to raise for the next 18 years).
The night started with my usual evaluations: sky – clear✔️; data – promising ✔️; thread on the Alberta Aurora Chaser Facebook page ✔️ – all systems looked favourable for a show. From the chatter in the last few days, it appeared that we could be in for something spectacular. However, until you see it with your own two eyes, nothing is guaranteed.
I first looked out my window at 9pm, before I committed myself to Netflix. I could see a green tinge to the sky, but nothing to get excited about yet. I’d wait and see if anything developed. One series episode later. Check the sky. Still just a green glow. I feel this is going to happen – patience. Another Netflix episode and another test shot. 10:30 there is a green band with spikes. She’s getting stronger and within only 4 minutes, stronger yet – it’s going to happen but nothing spectacular yet. I am torn. Torn between taking the chance, driving out to wait under the stars or watching the next series episode with my husband, as we do, on a typical Friday night. He is patient with my wandering back and forth almost willing activity to start and race out the door. My FOMO is strong but my senses tell me there is time to watch one more episode. And so I do…atop my covers in my hoodie, jeans, and shoes, ready to run. Hubby understands, but I’m sure it can’t be easy with me ready to run as soon as I get a better offer for the evening.
I make it through this last episode…barely. I can feel that it is time to run. Roll credits and I’m off to check the skies. The sky is full…there is green everywhere. I quickly put on my parka (later wishing I had added long Johns), my go-bag, my gear – yell a quick “I’m just heading out to check the horizon, shouldn’t be too long” and disappear into the night for the next two hours. In fairness, even though the sky was totally covered in Aurora, that doesn’t mean there is something to capture. Sometimes, it’s just like green cloud and, just as quickly as it fills the sky, it is gone. I left with hopes, but no expectations. As with false labor, there was a chance I would be sent home empty handed.
The night quickly morphed into something even my wildest dreams could not imagine. I have captured some pretty wicked Aurora over the years and thought it couldn’t get any better…and yet, it did. It wasn’t the photos or the opportunity for photos that was amazing and although I am pleased with my captures, I wish I could have captured the essence and the movement – the energy that waxed and waned across the entire sky. It was a continuous and sometimes frustrating challenge to fit the scope of what I was seeing into my 11mm lens…nothing fit. There was Aurora to the north, the west, the east, southwest, southeast, and overhead – everywhere but due south. As the camera clicked away, my body was on a swivel trying to capture every essence in every direction – willing the camera to hurry so I could line up the next shot. I feel it today like a full-on workout! No, it wasn’t what I was capturing that made it so wondrous, every click of the camera was but a brief moment in time. It was the feeling that I could not capture. And I was alone, I could not share it. I simply had to experience it. And now, I feel feeble in my attempt to share it in words.
I’m not sure that there are sufficient words to describe last night and I find myself wondering if I should, in fact coin something. I grew up on the east coast and am no stranger to fog. I have been out at night when you can see the fog swirling around you and across your field of vision. The clouds have come down and enveloped you. That is how I felt last night. Tendrils of Aurora that were many miles up felt like they were inches from my face – flowing tendrils that made me question whether a mist had actually blown in. It had not. Alone with my tripod looking up into the heavens, a blobby, unresolved Aurora pulsed maniacally and rhythmically like a celestial heartbeat. It was overwhelming – the feeling like I was awash in Aurora much like the feeling of standing in the ocean as the tide rolls in. My head knows that I am watching the 3rd stage of an Aural substorm but my heart sees nothing but magic. My heart overrules my head and I stand away from the camera, arms outstretched, watching in pure, unadulterated wonder. A part of me so wishing there was someone to share the wonder, and yet another part of me grateful for the quiet contemplation. At one point the thought crossed my mind – had I actually died out here? Was this the entrance to heaven? Sitting here in the light of day, typing, this idea seems preposterous, but that thought did actually cross my mind and caused me to take stock – to ground and reacquaint myself with my earthly surroundings. As I stood under one particularly active pulse, the only thing missing was the disco music – I was standing in an outdoor nightclub.
By 2am I was home. The sky had turned an almost solid, unearthly green and I was chilled after standing outside in a windy +3 degrees for so long. It was comically reminiscent of the young love “you say goodnight”, “no, you say goodnight” played out over the phone. I collapsed the tripod, walked to the vehicle, lifted the tailgate, looked longingly for any resurgence of activity…saw some…lowered the tailgate…set the tripod and took a few more shots. The lady was powering out, as was I. I knew she’d be back to dance again this night, but that would have to be someone else’s chase. I came home so late, even the cats couldn’t be bothered to greet me, just cocked a sleepy eye from their perch. The soft snores emanating from my room told be hubby was well off in dreamland. The energy running through me assured me there would be sleep for a while so I downloaded the over 200 photos onto my computer, just looking quickly to ensure I had not simply imagined at all. I had not. They would wait till the morning. I got into my chilly bed and curled into a ball trying to get warm, taking care not to let my cold feet stray onto my husband – no one needs that shock in the middle of the night! Sleep eluded me as I knew it would. But I was fine with that because there was so much feeling to process, so much gratitude to embrace. Then, about an hour later, the shakes came as the last vestiges of my adrenaline rush took hold. This was new for Aurora chasing but I remember that feeling well after my children were born and a lovely nurse would wrap me in a warmed flannel sheet. I got out of bed long enough to retrieve my heating pad to tuck in with me and, before too long, I finally drifted off.