The northern lights were supposed to brighten Oregon skies last week. The news channels excitedly reported on the best times to see them in the sky. Those lights seem to hold a certain amount of magic for almost everybody, holding a steady place on many bucket lists. Beautiful dancing colors in the sky, what’s not to like? The temptation of seeing them was hard to resist despite the chances being very slim, and the super moon promising to dampen any possible shots of light coming through on the horizon.
We decided at the last moment, after a fairly awful day, to make a trek out to Crown Point, stopping at Burgerville along the way for a shared vanilla shake and an order of fries. The cool sweetness and simply decadent flavor of vanilla mixed with the warm saltiness of the fries was intoxicating and addicting. The sky darkened as we started leaving the city behind, though there appeared to be a layer of smog. We debated about continuing, but decided to go for it.
Most of Portland also decided to go for it based on the long strings of cars parked far along the road towards Crown Point. We looked a bit skeptically at the bright lights across the Columbia River and decided to continue along the Historic Columbia River Highway, which forces you to drive slowly and wind through the hills. Beautiful during the day, but exhausting for poor Doug as we made the long trek to Rowena Point. The sky cleared more and more as we drove, tiny pinpoints of light showing through the cool darkness. We finally made it to the parking lot and pulled in to join a scattering of other Northern Lights hopefuls, quickly trying to turn off all car lights to avoid frustrating the others. We anxiously looked to the north.
The sky had a subtle glow along the horizon, nothing dramatic, but present. Doug assured me that was about what we would see. We took out his camera and started taking some long-exposures, which showed a slightly deeper glow, but still nothing dramatic. We continued to wait, hoping we might see something a bit more exciting.
While the Northern Lights didn’t give a great show that night, the waning moon more than made up for it. An orange glow suddenly appeared above one of the hills. As it became apparent the moon was on the rise, a car filled with wild, excited children started howling to welcome the deflated globe. All attention shifted from the horizon to the rising moon as it lit the sky more and more each moment.
We continued to take photos, of the moon, of the stars, of the horizon. The Milky Way stretched above our heads, a treat for a couple of city kids who don’t often see much more than the Big Dipper in the night skies. Millions and millions of tiny lights covering the sky.
For a day full of heartbreak, bad news, and shattered hopes, that night helped ease those aches. The night sky above us, so large and yet so close and beautiful. That connection is about as close to religion as I get. The wonderfully wise Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it far more beautifully than I ever could:
“The atoms of our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them in their cores and exploded these enriched ingredients across our galaxy, billions of years ago. For this reason, we are biologically connected to every other living thing in the world. We are chemically connected to all molecules on Earth. And we are atomically connected to all atoms in the universe. We are not figuratively, but literally stardust.”
A vanilla shake, fries, and stardust. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to you, little one. See you in the stars.