Too excited to plan or pack well, I drove three hours on Friday to the North Shore. I was headed for the first gathering of Aurora Chasers on the Great Lakes, but I had no idea what to expect. It would be a mingling of old friends and complete strangers, a mix of scientists and photographers — and a blend of novice and expert chasers of the Northern Lights.
Needing a shot of courage, I focused on nature during the drive. I watched the side of the highway as fall colors danced past my eyes. I marveled at the vibrant color of the Tamaracks, entire forests of glowing orange. I studied the treetops, especially the White Pines, as they climbed over the horizon, reaching for the sun.
“Drive, Baby, Drive”
Before me was an expanse of beauty, shining in the afternoon light, but ahead was a storm cloud, threatening to dampen the adventure. I passed underneath a rain shower, with fewer drops than windshield wipers, and emerged back into the sun.
I felt so happy, moving north through Minnesota, bound for the fresh evergreen air, I was already smiling — enjoying the indie rock that sounded from the stereo. “Drive, baby, drive,” sang a voice, accompanied by violin. Then I felt someone tap my left shoulder, his touch so warm that it heated me through my sweater.
It was the sun.
The clouds had moved behind me, to reveal radiant sunbeams, when one of them touched me on the shoulder and brushed the side of my face. I was meant to do this, I thought. Whoever I would meet, whatever I would do, wherever I would be, it was meant to happen.
Whenever the heavens flickered with otherworldly light, we would be ready.
The Task at Hand
Snapping out of this pleasant trance, I concentrated on the task at hand: Finding the Northern Lights. The Aurora Chasers would need clear skies. We would need to be in darkness, far from city lights. Where did the cloud cover begin, and where would it end? Would we get lucky tonight?
I established a landmark in my mind: Pine City, Minnesota. That was where the cloud cover finally engulfed my car. Worst-case scenario, this was how far south we would need to travel if the Aurora Borealis lit up the contiguous U.S.
But I knew better.
Lake Superior is a force of nature, and when you are on the shore, the weather changes with dramatic whims. If we had faith in the lake, the waves would rock and the winds would gust, letting thousands of clusters and constellations shine for us that weekend.
Faith, Trust and a little bit of Pixie Dust.
Not only did the stars shine late that night, when we saw them above Gooseberry Falls, they came out in force the following eve. Lake Superior cast out the clouds in the middle of each night, inviting them back for glorious sunrises each morning.
— If only I could have survived on just seven hours of sleep, I could have witnessed the magenta-melon blaze Sunday at dawn that several photographers did!
Along with our guests from at least five states, I saw the heavens reflected in Little Stone Lake on Saturday night. Jupiter shone so brightly, its reflection dropped across the lake — floating on the water just beyond the southern shore. A campfire burned in a hidden bay to the west, its flames concealed behind the evergreens as it projected a warm light into the night sky. A few photographers even caught the Northern Lights on camera, as they danced in subtle green columns across the horizon, framing the trees in a soft ethereal glow.
A Date with Other Planets
Even though our sunspots had a date with other planets, they sent a little solar plasma our way. What did it mean? Success for the Aurora Hunters, and excited shouts as we glimpsed the bottom of Lady Aurora’s gown!
The heavens didn’t create all of this majesty on their own, however. They were helped that weekend by more than four-dozen human souls, who were willing to open their hearts and share their love.
The people I had the privilege to meet in November were filled with passion. To each their own, they had found unique motivations for chasing the Northern Lights.
Many of them had their feet planted even deeper in nature’s beauty, dedicating their lives to photographing the colors of sunrise and sunset, the habits of elusive wildlife, or the mystery of the Milky Way. Some had quit their 9 to 5 jobs, left large cities or sacrificed even greater comforts, in order to intimately know nature and the phenomena surrounding this earth.
These people inspired me.
I have never been to a retreat that was filled with more excitement. I have never met a large group of people who were all brimming with this much enthusiasm. Whether it was mastering the science, seeking the thrills, or making magnificent photos, every man and woman there brought their own inner-beauty to the event.
We are still reeling from the excitement! The Facebook Page where this group originated is now a rushing current of white rapids. Bigger and better photos are being posted every day. Connections are being made across national and international borders, and plans are already hatching for the next time we meet.
A Serenade to Aurora Chasers
Let me tell you what this looked like, upon arriving home.
Myself, I was sleep-deprived. I had about nine hours of sleep through the whole weekend, waking each day like a kid on Christmas. I was saturated with caffeine, having consumed more coffee and pop than I had all year. I was living on greasy hamburgers, though I forgot to eat half of my meals, out of sheer excitement. We carpooled while I was there, taking my little sedan to every location on the trip, but I drove home on my own.
On the last day of the gathering, I even threw myself out of bed in time to meet the very woman whose photo inspired me to chase the Northern Lights. I know, right?!
On the drive home, I cranked the car stereo to thrice its normal volume. I found a classic rock station in Duluth, and the D.J. played this song, a “Serenade” from the Steve Miller Band. It was all about the Northern Lights! It had to be.
After I stopped for coffee, I realized I was low on gas. After I stopped for gas, I wanted to replay that song on my smartphone. After I played that song, I rushed to post it on social media. After I posted, I waited to see the reactions, then thanked our host, then tweeted my excitement for the world to read!
Haha… I know it’s crazy. But everyone else seemed to feel the same way!
I called my man, to tell him I would be late getting home, like an hour to two hours late. I told him we would probably miss the big art show in Minneapolis. I told him a hundred things, and I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing.
When I got home, we hugged it out. I shared every detail I could think of, sharing more details over a restaurant dinner, and forgetting to eat my pasta, to the point where the server worried if the kitchen had messed up my food. That was the first meal I had eaten in 12 hours. I just completely forgot to eat. Then, I crashed pretty hard. And I slept it off.
I can’t even begin to tell you how much this trip has done for me.
Sure, I was looking forward to it a lot, but I never expected to get this much out of the retreat. Already, my creativity is flowing, my happiness is thriving and my faith in the world is renewed. It is all because of the passion I witnessed in the people around me.
Thank you, Aurora Chasers. Thank you for everything!