Part 7 of the Alaska Series. Click here to start reading at Part 1: Above the Arctic Circle.
There's nothing quite like an alien-green sky to make you forget how cold Northern Alaska becomes once the summer sun finally relinquishes its grasp on the sky. We didn't have too many opportunities to see the aurora borealis due to cloud cover, but camp guide Dan was happy to double as a 2am alarm clock if there was a chance of a clear sky.
The first night I saw the Lights, I was blissfully asleep, dreaming that Dan was talking to me, patiently calling my name. Bubbling up from slumber, I realised with a start that he was outside our tent, trying to wake us. I'd wanted to witness this phenomenon since the first time I'd heard of it and now was my chance. I'm not sure if it was the excitement or that I was still half-asleep (or both!), but while I had enough presence of mind to pull on a warm coat, I completely forgot to put anything over the thermals on my legs or even socks and boots.
Not that I noticed the below-freezing temperature; I was too busy looking up while trying to keep my mouth from opening in amazement. After seeing glorious photos of a breathtaking array of colours, you might think that seeing a green-only display would be a letdown. Not at all. The Lights had a life of their own and sent pulsing bursts, jagged fingers and billowing curtains of light streaking across the starry skies.
HowStuffWorks explains what causes both the Northern Lights and the Southern Lights - which my mother watched as a child in New Zealand: "The auroras, both surrounding the north magnetic pole (aurora borealis) and south magnetic pole (aurora australis) occur when highly charged electrons from the solar wind interact with elements in the earth's atmosphere." Read more about the auroras, including an explanation of the different colours in this article.
Crawling back into bed, I realised just how silly I'd been, rushing out unprepared for the frigid night. Even the super-toasty sleeping bag Cecil lent me didn't cut through the cold and it took two pairs of woolly socks, warm leggings over the thermals and woolly gloves before the warmth of the freshly-stoked fire seeped through and I finally stopped shivering enough to sleep.
The next time Dan woke us from our snug cocoons, I made sure to put on a coat, socks, boots and a good warm pair of pants over the thermals. Even if it was only so that I could stay out longer.
Next up: A Bad Day Hunting