Aurora chasers are a rare breed. They’re creative, adventurous, open and curious about life’s mysteries. Not to mention fearless!
At the end of October, nearly 200 of us converged in Two Harbors, Minnesota, embarking on a quest in the dark, eager to see the Northern Lights over Lake Superior. Instead of merely joining in, I led our gathering this year — and although I didn’t find the aurora, I found much more.
I found my tribe.
The devotion of an aurora chaser
Standing before this talented group of photographers and sky watchers, I was humbled, inspired and deeply moved. Many of these aurora chasers devote their nights, their travels and their livelihoods to capturing nature’s beauty on camera. Each one offers a new perspective, often transforming an ordinary scene into something transcendent.
When it comes to aurora, that’s no easy task. It requires just the right combination of light, focus and shutter speed to capture this elusive phenomenon in a photograph. And when there’s no activity on the surface of the sun — the star hurtling solar plasma into the earth’s atmosphere — the task becomes all but impossible.
That’s why I was amazed, as I stood on a pebble beach in the dark Sunday at 3am, when an unassuming man from Thunder Bay, Ontario, caught a green glow low on the horizon through his camera lens. Air glow, he called it, and with a glimpse at the stats, I knew he was right. There was little to no aurora activity at the time.
Just as the aurora often does, the notion of a subtle green color in the sky sent a rush of excitement through my limbs. So I stoked our beach fire, where we had an expansive northern view, and looked out over the lazy waves of Lake Superior.
Jupiter: Guardian of the abstract mind
On the horizon, Jupiter shone brightly from a place of prominence. It was so bright I saw it twice, the second time reflected in the waters of Lake Superior. Like a shadow, the planet’s light stretched over the lake, reaching all the way up to our superior shore.
Something spiritual happened when I gazed into the light of Jupiter — dubbed by astrologists as the guardian of the abstract mind — and I felt a yen for exploring ideas and unraveling life’s mysteries.
I think, in part, that’s what makes aurora chasers such a special lot. To see the aurora borealis, we have to open our minds and try to understand it — at least if we want to see the Northern Lights at low latitudes.
Our curiosity is unbridled. Our spirit of wonder has followed us into adulthood in tact. Our courage guides us in the dark, leading us to enjoy adventures beyond the normal range of experience.
When courage is hard to come by
Overwhelmed by a flood of emotions, I had to summon my own courage on the North Shore. Especially when I heard the whisper of the waterfall, the cedar trees beckoning me to hike the river by moonlight.
You see, like water flowing over the basalt rock cliffs, time has sculpted me too. Momentous events in my life have altered the way I look at things — quieting my adventurous side, yet urging me to cherish each passing moment.
At this point in my journey, courage can be hard to come by. But with so much optimism and passion circulating at our aurora retreat, I found the courage to lead one amazing aurora retreat!
While most of the group was spinning steel wool on Saturday, I spent some time meandering down the trail to Gooseberry Falls. With the love of my life along for the adventure, I knew we had to see the falls at night. By some stroke of luck, we arrived at the waterfall before everyone else, just two star-crossed lovers under one gleaming moon.
It was a perfect night.
Cool air, light clouds and a galaxy of stars greeted the falls, and the cascading water shimmered in the moonlight. The aroma of autumn drifted on the breeze, but the blazing fall colors were reduced to black silhouettes against a sapphire sky.
Walking down to the waterfall at such a calm hour, it seemed like the trees might begin to speak, like the waterfall might sing of ages past. A peaceful sensation came over me then. I felt the quiet energy of the forest at night, the cleansing flow of the water and the rich oxygen in the air.
It was the first time I’d ever experienced this in the dark, and I felt as if I could see my own path revealed in brilliant light. I felt fearless.
You are my tribe
Words don’t do it justice. The entire retreat was filled with a constant stream of incredible experiences!
The mystical sensation of standing before the moonlit waterfall. The awe of seeing Jupiter reflected in Lake Superior. The excitement of chasing the aurora borealis. All creating one truly wonderful journey.
I feel honored to know so many passionate aurora chasers, who stand in awe of nature’s beauty.
You are my tribe!
Photo used with permission from Bruce Bergeron, of BB Images.