Last week, the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) could be seen in brilliant display as far south as Alabama. When I heard about it I went outside to see if the sight was visible in Birmingham. I saw only the usual city lights from my yard. Further north in Huntsville, they got quite a show.
Even though I couldn’t see the Northern Lights that night, it brought to mind an unusual event from my childhood. In our home in Dadeville, Alabama, my little brother and I would often look out the bedroom window at night as we lay in our bunk beds. With few city lights in our small town, we could see the stars on a clear night. On this one particular night as we gazed out the window to the north, we noticed a strange glow above the treetops on the horizon. The bluish/whitish light would stretch out further in the sky, recede back a bit, and then extend again up into the sky, far above the tree line. We tried to figure out what that light could be. There were no city lights that were normally visible above the trees in that direction. Even if there were, we didn’t know why their light would rise up and die back down like that. At the time, we were content just to watch and wonder what could be causing the lights in the night sky.
In the next day or so at school, I mentioned the sight to a couple of my friends. One friend, Morris Oliver was always smart in many matters. He was the only one I knew who had read through the entire World Book Encyclopedia just for the fun of it (until I met my wife who did the same thing when she was school age). Morris suggested that what we witnessed may have been the Northern Lights. “It’s possible to see them this far south,” he explained, “as long as there is no cloud cover between here and there.” Wow! How about that! It was the best explanation I could think of for the lights in the sky that my brother and I had witnessed. Whether or not that was it, when I mentioned it to my brother, we decided that we had indeed witnessed the Northern Lights.
Living in the city now, the wonder of the night sky often goes unnoticed, with the constant blur of street lights blocking the view of the heavens. On many a warm night when I was a kid, I would sit out on the back steps to gaze up at the stars. As an adult, one of my most memorable encounters occurred as I was driving across Texas at night. I was heading out to California to go to seminary. In west Texas I encountered a heavy fog while driving along on I-20. Quite suddenly, the fog cleared. I was out in the flat desert, far from any city, and the whole sky was filled with bright stars. I was absolutely amazed. It was late at night and there was no other traffic on that stretch of highway. I was so much in awe that I pulled over to the side of the road and got out to look at the sky. You don’t see sky like that in Alabama! From one horizon to the next, there was an unobstructed view of the stars in the sky. I felt as though I were standing in space with a glorious view of the heavens!
You may not have seen the aurora borealis last week, and you may not be where you can view the entire dome of the night sky. If you are like me and so many others, you may not have occasion to see the stars like our ancestors did. I think we are poorer for it. The beauty of nature has has a way of instilling awe and gratitude as we take it in. It helps us to put things into perspective when we’ve had a difficult day. Even the ordinariness of a crescent moon in the sky can have a wonderful effect. Sometimes we are fortunate to have a sight that is out of the ordinary such as a meteor traversing the sky, or the wonder of the Northern Lights.