the Northern Lights splash across the canvas above you.
At first, they had been a mere smudge, like the dull beam of a lone hiker’s flashlight, shining up through the distant pointed firs.
But then they brightened. And spiked upward like a sword into the sky.
Their glow schmeared across the starry darkness and became a greenish flame with tips of rosy purple.
The Lights struck celestial poses – a long loopy swirl like an author’s signature inside your favorite novel, a grid of blobs made by a painter’s goopy brush on canvas, a roundish cloud like a conversation bubble. With each new pose, you cheer and squeal in the freezing steely air. The snow squeaks under your boots as you jump around in delight.
The finger of Lights spreads, reaching across the horizon of this wide-open Arctic sky. Like a white rainbow, their curve seems to trace the arch of the earth.
And then the Lights start to dance, literally jumping back and forth. You gasp. With the energy of a July thunderstorm, it feels wild and exhilarating, bizarrely fresh and maybe dangerous.
Your driver Norton has turned out to be a serendipitous acquaintance. In the last 36 hours, he has driven you out to the Balantine trailhead to meet a dog-musher for a spirited ride behind 10 yapping leaping panting huskies through the Alaskan woods. He has waited at the annual Ice Alaska park while you flew down the ice sluice and wandered the ice village of log cabins and lifesize walk-in trains. He delivered you to the Turtle Club, a Fairbanks institution up on the Steese Highway for a dish of its trademark succulent prime rib. And if you’re game, he has invited you for a night of ice-fishing with his pals.
But this tops it all. Norton recognized the prime Northern Lights predictors – cold air and a clear sky – and checked the online Lights forecast before picking you up at 10:30 pm for this wee hours adventure. He drove you to a secret summit where only 2 other locals’ cars are parked. And he has brought his camera! Thank goodness, because no setting on your iPhone or handheld Sony can capture this.
You stand at the top of the frozen world with a kaleidoscopic fire show overhead. It’s 2am– time to leave. It’s 2:30 – you still can’t tear yourself away. When your fingers can stand the cold no longer, you reluctantly crawl back into the toasty van and drive away from this Arctic party. The Lights dance in your rear view mirror as you drive down the mountain back to Fairbanks. “That was a trip of lifetime”, you say. “Let’s do it again next year.”