Magnetic North: Dirt and auroras - all in one week

Northern lights photo courtesy of the NOAA Photo Library
Northern lights photo courtesy of the NOAA Photo Library

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Welcome back to Magnetic North, where some old friends not seen for waaaay too long appeared this week.

The first, I smelled before I saw. The scent literally stopped me in my tracks as soon as I stepped outside to do morning chores. Could it be? In February? But my nose didn’t lie. There under the old red pine by the woodshed the glacier formed by my frozen bucket dumping had receded, defeated by two days of sun, wind and 30-something temperatures. And in place of ice, a dinner-plate size circle of earth. Yes, dirt…as delicious an aroma warming in the morning sun as I’ve ever sniffed.

I know. I know. It’s still a two-month slog until the real deal. But isn't the evidence of things unseen what defines faith? An elusive thing in February, faith. So to drink in the scent of spring when all is still fairly colorless and cold....well, it’s sort of an answered prayer, isn’t it?

The other old friends came to visit a few nights later. And I should have known they were about. The only sounds coming out of my radio were crackles and fleeting notes of music or spoken words. Interference. But from what?

The answer came close to midnight as I left the goat barn. A weird column of smoke undulated in the sky beyond the chicken coop. Of course, it was not smoke, but the northern lights. I didn’t recognize them  - it’s been that long since I’ve seen them. Part of that’s my fault. Without a barn full of goats in recent years I’ve finished chores well before the aurora came to dance over my meadow. And then there is the yard light, a convenience with the unintended consequence of polluting the splendor of stars’ light shows.

A new neighbor and his daughter stopped to chat the next day and we exchanged aurora stories. Some years back, I told him, I was on a northern lights phone-tree. A friend would call me, and vice versa, no matter the hour, if auroras were boogying overhead in the county skies. When did that stop? And why did it take me years to miss it? Scary.

I once said that I’d know if my spirit was in trouble if ever I drove the 15 miles to town without noticing Lake Superior. Forgetting to remember the Northern Lights is a bit like that, I think. And so, to jog my memory, when I go out to do the nighttime chores, I don’t turn the yard light on, but off. And, unless the sky is clouded over, I build in rubbernecking time after the hay is dispensed and the beaks and noses are counted. A good system so far. Why, the night after the aurora sighting, I spied a huge ring around the filling moon. Not a tight ring, but one of such girth that I nearly missed seeing it.

As for last night, I don’t know what was overhead or underfoot. My full attention went to one very sick angora bunny. And of course that trumps mere celestial antics.

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