Very rarely the Aurora Borealis can be seen in places as far reaching as New York. This last weekend was one of those times. On a whim, I drove an hour and half outside the city at one in the morning in hopes of catching a glimpse.
Chris and I were having dinner with one of my oldest friends (scratch that, my oldest friend. my first friend, in fact) and his wife (you know that thing where a good friend finds a partner who is even more fabulous than you could have dreamed up for them? she’s like that). We were finishing up our meal and deciding where to head next. Chris threw out the idea that if we drove upstate outside the ambient lights of the city there was an off-chance we could view the Northern Lights. In the kind of fevered decision making process that either results in total greatness or utter disaster, we decided to go for it. Chris and I went home to fetch our car and a camera and in the meantime our friends gathered blankets and a stargazing picnic of Oreos, almonds, and bourbon.
We let the city lights fade behind us with only a rough estimate of where we were heading and a map of dubious origins that supposedly indicated the best aurora borealis visibility areas. By the time we arrived in the little town upstate where the internet told us a stargazing club often meets, things weren’t looking incredibly promising. The moon was glaring like a spotlight (an enemy to viewing the ionospheric light show apparently...and don't be scared, I only know the term "ionospheric" in this context because I was just reading an article about the northern lights) and the sky was otherwise obscured by tree cover. The proper Jack Kerouac quotes to tattoo on our butts to memorialize this experience were being bandied about jokingly (as one does). When “My witness is the empty sky” came up as an option we all burst into laughter at the absurdity of this (what seemed to be, at that point, failed) mission.
It was sometime after that (and following a very dark and winding drive through an increasingly wooded terrain) when we found the entrance to a park and reservoir. Within we came to a clearing in the trees and almost didn’t believe our eyes when we discovered a few other star chasers convened there as well. We looked up to see great wispy streaks scarring the sky above us and fell silent in astonishment that it appeared we had actually done it. We laid on our backs under piles of blankets and stared up at the celestial formations above and the shockingly bright veil of stars. The air was chilly and smelled like trees and in that moment there was no other place on Earth I would have rather been. One by one our fellow astronomy enthusiasts dispersed so that it was just us and the crickets and the stars.
At one point my girlfriend said, “You should write about this in your blog”. Until then it hadn’t occurred to me to link the two things. Here I was focusing on what I could bring up and examine from the last few months when the very title of this blog implies the present and the future. It turns out that part of my ever forward includes relishing and honoring the spontaneity and the adventures that wouldn't have been available to me if I currently had a two week old. Life didn’t go the way I wanted it to or the way I had planned, but it marched forward without my consent and it continues to present precious opportunities to love the life I have. It continues to present opportunities to learn from the disappointments and the heartbreaks. I think I’m at a point where I can recognize and appreciate those opportunities again. I'm not saying that I am or will ever be "over" it. When your heart shatters and then gets glued back together it will never be exactly the same. However, gazing up at the Northern Lights with dear friends and considering the vastness and beauty of the galaxy of which we are just one tiny part did wonders for refocusing my perspective.