I first saw the Northern Lights when I was about 8 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Our parents woke us up to go into the backyard to see them -- they had heard on the 10 o'clock news that people were wondering what the strange lights in the sky were. All I remember is a big green cloud and a big red cloud, and I wondered for years afterward what the big deal was.
The next time I saw them was at college. I was standing on a hill in the middle of winter. The lights flashed electric-bright and flared all the way to the zenith. They flickered like fire; I felt if I were quiet long enough, I could hear them crackling.
I saw them again in my last month of college. I was at a northern lake in May. They were more subdued then -- mistier, with no color. I sat in a canoe in the middle of the lake and thought about where my life was going to go.
The last time I saw them was in the middle of summer, back at the farmhouse, complete with a meteor to end the show. It was the perfect end to a perfect evening.
I saw them again last night. Photos or paintings of Northern Lights often have trees in the foreground to provide some contrast. I would always think, "Well, that's convenient." On the drive home, I saw a glow so bright it was visible in town. In the country, pine and spruce trees by the road ruffled the bottom edge of the lights. They were so black against the green. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before.