According to the University of Alaska at Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, if you spend four nights in Fairbanks in March, you are 90 percent likely to see the Northern Lights. Based on that data, I planned to spend six nights in and around Fairbanks, figuring that boosted the chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis to a sure 135 percent. And we did see them! On our first night in Fairbanks, as we were walking back to the hotel from warming our veins with a nightly bourbon toddy at the Pike’s Landing bar, there they were, languidly rolling and twisting across the dark, starry sky, like thready wisps of that jade green smoke that Jeannie’s evil, brunette twin sister turned into when she wanted to get inside Jeannie’s bottle or Major Nelson’s pocket. We couldn’t believe our luck to see them on our first night in town! It was spectacular. After about twenty minutes, they softly dissolved into the atmosphere, and we realized the bourbon had worn off and our toes were frozen like fish sticks, so we went back to the hotel and thanked our lucky stars that we had taken that walk.
But, I couldn’t sleep. I got up again at about 1:30 in the morning, bundled up and went back outside, with my cute little cell phone flask in my pocket. There wasn’t much to see at first, but I could just make out the slightest feathery green glow on the horizon. I watched it for a while, out there on the edge of the Chena River, all by myself. Slowly, it grew. And grew. And before I knew it, it had split into about four wide ribbons of green and violet light that overtook the entire sky, swirling and dancing directly above me like a neon belly dancer, reaching her brightly glowing arms down as if to invite me to play. My rational mind knows that the Aurora occur fifty to sixty miles above the earth, but in that moment, I was so sure I could touch them, that I jumped up and down in the snow with my arms stretched up to the sky, laughing ecstatically. I was quite literally and absolutely dazzled. So gobsmacked, I was, that it never occurred to me to go get my camera. Just as well, as I couldn’t have mustered the disrespect to turn my back on that display even if I had wanted to, and I’m sure no still photo I could have taken would have done those lights justice, kinetic as they are. The Aurora danced with me for about ten minutes and then twirled off into space, leaving me staring greedily at the black sky. I stood there for another half an hour, freezing, but the only thing I saw was a guy in a short-sleeved t-shirt and no jacket who brought the trash out of the hotel to the dumpster.
Every night after that, for the remaining six days we had to kill in Fairbanks, I went out into the subzero temperatures at around 1 a.m., armed with my flask, camera equipment and recently acquired night photography skills, and begged the Aurora to come back out and play. But they never did.