One of the things I like most about living in Arizona, is that I don’t have to go far to find seclusion away from all the city lights, and do some serious stargazing. When light pollution’s at a minimum, it’s easy to spot satellites circling overhead and meteors heading across the sky. For my wife and I, this is directly out our backdoor.
The same could be said in Alaska although I don’t recall that many “shooting stars” as we called them. I suppose those folks living in the bush communities saw them all the time. In Anchorage, unlike parts of Lake Havasu City, there was a constant glow above the city preventing such.
Joleen and I would drive to Bird Creek some twenty miles out of Anchorage and watch for celestial anomalies. It was winter when we did this, because during summer months, the sun barely set before it popped up again.
The darkest place I ever observed stars while in Alaska was on LaTouche Island in Prince William Sound. There were five of us camping there in late fall, and we were the only inhabitants. At that time of year the days were getting shorter. In a few months the moon would reign supreme over the sun.
Around midnight, my son and I stepped outside the old cabin we were staying in and turned off our flashlights. I’ve never seen the Alaskan stars brighter than at that one spot alone. It was as pitch black as it gets, unless you’re standing in a tunnel or cave.
People say that the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis, whatever you prefer to call them, snap, crackle, and pop at certain intervals. I can vouch for that, having heard them do so one time. It’s easy for me to recall exactly when that happened because it was on New Year’s Eve.
On December 31, 1970, good friend, Bob Malone, my brother, Jim, and I decided to go late night snowmobiling to bring in the New Year. It was no problem doing such as we could drive the machines from our front yards, across Muldoon Road, and be in the sticks within minutes.
That particular night was bone chilling cold, at least minus ten degrees Fahrenheit or colder. We were dressed appropriately, wearing Arctic parkas, thermal lined pants, bunny boots, and facemasks. Bunny boots are military grade rubberized boots with an air chamber built within to hold the heat. They are white in color, thus I believe that’s where their unusual name came from.
We were a couple of miles in the woods, away from any noise besides our own making, and the Northern lights were dancing like never before. Multicolored ribbons of light jetted back and forth as if perfectly choreographed. All they needed was music to complete the show.
Bob suggested that we stop and turn off our machines. Listening closely, we heard a sound much like that of static electricity as you remove a nylon garment. It was quite pronounced. Some might say the crackling resembled a bowl of Rice Krispies after milk had been poured on top.
We sat there for several minutes listening to this peculiar crackling before deciding it was time to head home. The year 1971 had arrived in most spectacular fashion.
I only hope that 2023 repeats the same here in Arizona, in the way of a colossal shooting star with shimmering white tail. One thing I won’t be doing, is wearing a parka and bunny boots while watching for it.
Happy New Year!