If you have ever taken a long road trip, and you know the sitting-in-a-car-for-more-than-seven-hours-that-never-seems-like-it’s-going-to-end-trip, then you also know how most of that journey is a blur. If someone were to ask you to give specific details of everything you saw, you would have a very difficult time. But if they ask you for one or two things, you could probably do it easily (unless you’re one of the lucky ones who can sleep in a car). A couple years ago I was making the drive from North Carolina to Akron OH for a PGA Tour event with a co-worker. I can tell you two specific things that I remember during that 7-hour trip. One is the impressive tunnel in West Virginia that goes under a mountain on I-77. The other is the two buildings along the Interstate one would never expect to see together. Heading north on the right is an enormous church with an enormous cross and right next to it is an enormous strip club. That’s something you just don’t forget.
Life can be a lot like a long road trip. There are so many things we forget, or they become a blur as the years fly by, like the signs along a highway. But there are those certain events that stay ingrained in our minds forever. This is a recollection of one of those moments.
When I was adopted, I moved from a small dismal apartment to a quaint 2-story house nestled in the wooded mountains of western Virginia. I was literally a city mouse who was plucked up and set down in a very un-city like environment. My world was opened up in ways I had never imagined. I could literally walk out the front door of our wood-stove-heated-home on a cold winter night and look up into the starriest sky I had ever seen. My new father would often stand with me in the gravel driveway. He would tell me that my eyes would adjust to the darkness. And they always did. There were no city lights to pollute the sky. Standing there in the bone-chilling night air, he would point out the stars, among which you could see the shapes of people or animals (with a little imagination). There, out in front, was the “V”-shaped constellation, Taurus the Bull. Over there, the blob of stars called the Seven Sisters. Over here, the Big Dipper and the North Star, Polaris, which was part of the Little Dipper. Back over there, Canis Major, the great dog, which contained the brightest star in the winter sky, Sirius. Last, but not least, he would point out the three stars that made up the belt of what would become my favorite constellation, Orion, the hunter. To this day, when I look up in the winter sky and see Orion, I’m taken back to those nights with my new father as he passed his wealth of knowledge on to me.
One particular cold winter night, my dad was taking me to my weekly Cub Scout meeting. We met at the church next to my elementary school. On the way to scouts, we talked about the Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights. I’m sure my dad, who grew up on Long Island, had viewed the Aurora Borealis at some point in his life. But I had never seen them. We talked about what they looked like, the best places you could see them, and what causes them. Our discussion came to an end when we reached our destination, and I exited the vehicle to go join my rowdy fellow Cub Scouts. About an hour and a half later, the meeting was over, and the raucous group of youngsters emerged from the church squealing, chatting, and being typical high-energy boys. Everyone quickly made their way through the cold to the warm vehicle waiting to take them home. I climbed up into our green International Scout and went over the proceedings of the night’s meeting with my still somewhat-new father. As we drove further and further out of the small town, we started to notice something. Very faint at first, in the northern section of the sky, we started seeing a pink tinge—a glow. At first, we speculated that it was perhaps some kind of weather experiment. Or perhaps we were seeing the lights from something on the ground a long distance off. Neither of us was even about to think that it was what we had just been talking about two hours earlier. Plus, we were in Virginia. We were too far south for that. Or were we? As we made our way further from town and started up the long gravel road in the woods that we lived off of, the glow in the sky became more and more pronounced, as did our excitement. “Look at it now!” we would exclaim. “Holy cow!!” By the time we had pulled into the driveway, the sky was a brilliant pink, almost fuchsia color. This was crazy! What were the odds? Excitedly, we went inside the house and told Vicki, my new mother, to come outside. She had to see this amazing celestial show. The three of us went back out and stared in awe at the beauty of the heavens above us. We were all aware that we were witnessing something special and rare. The sky on fire was imprinted in our memories forever.
In the days that followed, we came to find out that what we witnessed was indeed a rare sighting of the Northern Lights. That night, there had been hundreds of calls to radio stations and even to law enforcement from people who were worried about what they were witnessing in the night sky. But my dad and I? We knew what we were seeing. We had just been talking about it right before it happened. Now, that’s something you never forget!