June 8th, 2019
There is a strange glow in the sky above, but no one else seems to notice. I shouldn’t have noticed, as there are several baby goats bouncing around the pasture to distract me.
I had been visiting with them, lingering until there was scarcely any light to see them by. It is increasingly dark. At this point, to my senses, they are awkwardly bounding blobs and young, high-pitched voices calling. Older, deeper ones are answering. This was my second season in the company of these little hooved beings and their doting mothers. Mothers that demanded to be scratched where they could no longer comfortably reach. I was enjoying this new evening ritual, tasked by my neighbor to check in on her herd throughout the day, but my favorite time to do this was near sunset, when the kids were at their most playful and curious. Many of the does in the herd were still enormous with living cargo yet to be delivered and I was hoping to witness more births, something I had experienced for the first time the previous year and found thoroughly rewarding to observe and participate in. My ritual gleaned much more than I bargained for.
I dust myself off, close and lock up the gate behind me, and reluctantly wander back towards the house. I try to make out just where I’m stepping in the dim light, but stop and take notice of this strange banner of light. It hooks my eyes and commands my attention. There is something familiar about it…but…
It shouldn’t look like this right now…here?
My heart beats a little more quickly as I gradually recognize just what it is I am looking at. I’m searching its features, racing through my mind for notes I had stored regarding it over the years. Adorable baby goats are wiped clear from my brain.
This was something I had wanted to see from the moment I learned of its existence. I never imagined I’d see at the latitude I am at. It would have been rare to see it even from where I used to live in Washington State, where the Aurora Borealis is uncommonly seen but not rare. This serenely beautiful thing I’m looking at lingers on the edges of the ordinary, typically visible only to those who frequently see the auroras. This is currently flying under the radar as nothing much at all, but as time goes on, it is the very fact that it is visible and glowing so late into the night that proves it is what I believe to be. No other cloud is touched by sunlight at this time. It isn’t possible. Nothing exists that high up, at that angle.
But these do.
Noctilucent clouds. Night Shining clouds.
At first it jumps out as an exceptionally vivid blue sky with the dark night threatening to quickly overtake it. The way it always does. But there are these odd clouds throughout that cyan sea that stretch across it like tendrils, or sheets of a spiders web. They are pale, glowing, and they move slowly while I watch them, like ocean waves. What amazes me is how far this net grows and stretches out from the horizon. It isn’t just where the sun has set, no… eventually it reaches far out beyond it, well above my head and past it. I’ve never seen anything like it, this night sea spilling out over me like a slow motion tidal wave. Over time the tendrils shrink back and dim, back towards the horizon they burst from. I’m left with a few memorable photos on my cellphone.
I did some reading that night to verify what I already knew and made sure to be prepared for the possibility of another display the next night.
June 9th, 2019
It is late. Dark. I’m waiting, cameras and binoculars in hand. Phone is fully charged, super-zoom camera is also. The sky is looking good. I’m excited and happy and hopeful. I am scanning for signs that a display will unfold, for that odd, three-dimensional texture to emerge from the normally featureless expanse above.
I see shapes, clouds emerging from nothingness like yesterday. That cyan sea with pale tendrils emerging in untidy rows. It blooms and brightens, consumes the typical night and fills it with a new, eerie light. It starts to take on a character of its own, distinct from yesterdays display. Yesterday is almost forgotten as this incredible thing dominates the heavens.
A huge, brilliant wing emerges over the sky. The wing looks like it is attached at its base to a bolt of lightning wrapped in a fog. I watch, captivated for about an hour by the changing scenes in front of me, above me. I see those ocean waves again, but much more prominently. This time they slowly swell (well, slow and fast, the way the moon hangs still at a distant glance but hurries away when you spy on it through a telescope or telephoto lens) and surge like water with beautiful sharp contrasts of color and light, their crests a radiant blue against the deep black. Seemingly endless. These waves move along the atmosphere, a fantastic dancing veil to the pinpoint stars that twinkle and glimmer behind them. The distance between them is immense, but these special clouds are the closest to these stars that any cloud of moisture or ice could possibly be. They exist on the border of space, where meteors burn and flash as they fall.
My eyes latch onto new formations. I have a huge moving canvas to interpret and capture. A shimmering, searing rope and gleaming ribbon twists through the night, outlining what looks like the head of a panting, celestial canine. This feature is incredible to watch at high magnification. It gradually twists around itself, some parts spinning slowly and others more quickly like a near-space vortex or the beginning of some kind of wormhole. The paler, broader ribbon below it outlines the muzzle. This structure glows more diffusely and is also stunning to look at up close. A similar inner turning is occurring. So beautiful to watch, and see, if you are patient enough to look. Timelapse: The Noctilucent Clouds (YouTube Video)
Eventually, the enormous mesospheric canine falls apart and the clouds morph into a roiling mass that initially reminds me of a storm, but then it looks like ghostly bone marrow or a bleary network of neurons. Finally, before the last light slips away, the sky takes on the appearance of a looming, shadowy dune. There is much darkness between the light and this gives the display the appearance of a distinct landscape.
I stay outside until the features vanish over the horizon. I witness this beautiful phenomenon and hope for more ethereal, glowing nights but none emerge for the rest of that year or the next. Instead, my attention settles on those little hooved mountain climbers. Two of them have eyes that look like paler versions of these clouds. Thor, the leader and Odin the follower. Later on, little Rune joins us. His eyes look like amber. Three in my pasture, my own little herd. I learn so much about goat minds and spirits, about myself when I’m with them. Seeing them learn, what love to them is like, how they navigate their world and what they think of it. This makes me wonder about their wild ancestors, the Ibex.
We go hiking. They follow me, loyal. Like dogs. We watch other animals: mule deer, foxes, marmots and birds of all kinds, together. It is quiet and calm. They even stop to look at insects. Ants at their feet, on my feet. they try to push them away with their muzzles or snort at them. Rune eats a ladybug. Another time he tries to gobble up a mantid, but I don’t let him. They warn me about other people a zillion miles away and sometimes try to follow them (If they are passing us by and heading towards home. You better believe they know the way home.) they stare at horses and cows and listen for danger, standing still and sticking to my side when they are unsure of what to do. Murmuring and glancing nervously at me and the spooky thing. What do we do?
I lose Thor in 2022, but the other two remain. They will be my backpacking companions, each carrying a load for me in more remote places, on new kinds of adventures if all goes to plan. We are learning to hunt, fish, forage a little. Still so much to learn, new ways to experience everything and myself. Not just with goats, people too. Best of all.
Two years later, I am treated to another glowing night, although it never takes on the scope and breadth of the more stunning display. That one hugs the horizon, bright and layered but it taunts me with its remoteness.
A lot has happened since I last wrote in this blog! Within me, around me. I have lots more to share from the past few years and hopefully, I’ll have even more to write about in the next few months. I have to re-learn how to use this website, update, add and remove a few things!
Till next time…