Reports of solar flares and spectacular displays of northern lights in Norway and the British Isles this week reminded me of one of the most stunning, most memorable events I have witnessed in my life. On a starry summer night many many moons ago on the side of a butte overlooking the remote South Dakota prairie, I was surrounded—no, embraced—by northern lights in a full spectrum of color. The display filled the sky and appeared to touch the earth. And they danced. It was shock and awe in the best sense, a burning bush moment.
It was late, and I was driving three other young women from a powwow back to our home for the summer. A dirt road (which—I discovered a few years ago–is no longer there) took us around a curve on Rattle Snake Butte—see it in the distance?—which is sacred to the Lakota.
The sky was already a spectacular sight. Stars ran riot, the way they do in that part of the world. (Oh, do I miss the Dakota skies! If you’ve never seen the Milky Way—and I just read that most people have not—you must find your way to the Dakotas.) We rounded the curve, and there were the lights. We stopped and got out and stood there speechless, the four of us, and bathed ourselves in those lights. They were that close and all-consuming. It was Elijah’s chariot. It was a Close Encounter. It was orgasmic.
Here’s a link gorgeous video of this weeks activity that hints at what I saw that night. But the colors were more..
But more distinct, with those riotous stars as a backdrop.
This is the kind of moment that writers carry with them. It’s the overwhelming experience “recollected in tranquility” that poets—Wordsworth, for one—talk about. You pull this kind of experience out time and time again and relive the astonishment.
What astonishing, heart-stopping moment springs to mind for you? One that sizzled your senses and stayed with you in exquisite detail and maybe changed the way you saw the world in some way?
Oh, and did you see Stephen Colbert’s 2- part interview with WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE author Maurice Sendak? It’s one of our favorite books, and it always reminds me of my older son’s summers in children’s theater. Be sure to watch both parts!