My trip to the Redwoods had a profound effect on me. I can’t really explain what it was or why. I’ve been to many amazing and beautiful places never come back as humbled and rejuvenated as I had on this last trip. But everything about it just put me at ease and at awe. It was a combination of spending time with the kids while experiencing a mature old-growth forest among some of the oldest and tallest trees on the planet. I came back to Williston ready to take on the world and maybe inspired to leave in search of better country.
And then, not even a week after my return:
The largest geomagnetic storm I have ever witnessed occurred on the evening of March 23. Auroras are usually visible in the northern sky, but this one washed overhead and into the southern sky. I apparently missed the largest peak, but as soon as I learned this was happening, I grabbed my camera and drove west into Montana where the oil rigs are fewer and the sky is darker. I turned up a dirt road where I was hoping to perch myself on a high ridge, but I saw a faint glow rising to the west, a strange sight for an aurora. I wasn’t sure if it was light pollution or fog, so I stopped to grab a picture. I noticed some light beams shining up behind a small butte, so I made that the subject of my image. I was expecting it to light from an oil rig behind it. Instead…
It was the unmistakable green glow of the northern lights. Instead of shining ahead to the north, it was coming out of the west, directly overhead, and continuing to the east.
The fact that it was overhead was novelty enough for me. But it was bright. I ran back and forth taking photos in both directions. The ribbon got wider and split apart, becoming more defined.
Eventually, I got cold and had to get in the car to warm up. I kept watching out the window, but it seemed like the aurora was waning. So I got out to collect my camera and maybe pack it in for the night. But as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I noticed it wasn’t waning, it was getting brighter… and it was changing color. I thought I saw a red patch with the naked eye. I set up the camera again and confirmed it.
At this point, the ribbon began to take a definitive shape with some bright columns and curves and red spots. And then it started pulsing. And the pulsing continued for the remainder of my time out there. The aurora spread, mostly north, but a little south until it was covering at least 60% of the sky. I’ve seen big and bright auroras before, but never anything like this. It was literally dancing in the sky before my very eyes. I hate that the camera can’t convey the animation that was happening. At one point, the lights took on a web-like structure, still pulsing. The remaining images show the progression as the storm intensified and the red light took over.
This was without a doubt one of the most profound experiences I have ever had. It brought me to tears being out there to witness this spectacle of nature. I came home rejuvenated. The next day, I went to work in a trance, and it wasn’t just due to the lack of sleep. It was maybe a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I was part of it.