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Knot Pining: Binded by the lights

OK, kids — go get your placards and

bullhorns and be prepared to shove

“OK, Boomer” at me.

We live in a world with way too much information. It overwhelms. It freezes us. It rules us. It just makes things so dumbly different.

The last time I wrote about an amazing Northern Lights experience seems like a lifetime ago. The last time I saw the aurora act like it did last week was in the 1990s. I’m not exactly sure when, because I’m old. (Shakes fist.)

I was in my 20s, and, as those of that age are wont to do, I was walking home with some visiting friends from the neighborhood bar. We were tipsy, but not so much that we didn’t know that something was awry in the night sky. The dark looked different. I lived where there is a darkness, as Springsteen says, on the edge of town. Once we reached my driveway, we were able to discern what was so queer about this night.

Globules of white light were roiling in the sky. Pulsating. Lava-lamping. Seemingly coming right at us.


We popped the lawnchairs flat, and likely grabbed a few more cold ones, and for hours watched the show from outside the garage. It was mesmerizing. It was also confusing. To that point, we thought the Northern Lights were just that, a northern thing. I’d never seen them before. I grew up in southern Minnesota, so everything was a distant north mystery to me.

On this night, I was in Annandale, south of St. Cloud. It had been the farthest north I had ever lived. So I guess it made some sense.

But here’s the thing about that magical night. It was thrust upon us. We had no warning. It was a blip, a moment, captured. It is something I will never forget, that’s for sure.

I’d much rather forget the Northern Lights that dominated conversation across the country last Friday and Saturday nights.

Like I said, there is too much information out there. It seems everybody knew what was up.

My plan all along for Friday was to see a show in downtown Duluth. I casually mentioned to my companions that there was a very good possibility that the lights would be out in force later. Perhaps my mistake. They got all jazzed and suddenly the show we wanted to see was second fiddle. It’s all those two could talk about.

So when the band we had planned to see did that customary thing of not playing at their scheduled time, we decided to head up the North Shore, take a peek, and then poke our heads back in at the show.

I know a few dark spots up the shore aways, but we decided we would dart off onto Old Highway 61 at Brighton Beach to see if we could first gauge just how intense the aurora was. I joked as we went along London Road that we were experiencing “aurora traffic.” It was like reverse Sunday afternoon traffic, when everybody comes off the shore and funnels into Duluth. There were lines of cars ahead and behind us, all headed north.

I won’t go into the exact machinations of my mind as we went by Brighton Beach. It was lousy with cars. And it would stay that way all the way up to Stony Point. Solid lines of parked cars along the road. It was like those old smelting days, but everywhere, not just at the stream breaks.

Cars were darting in and off the shoulders. Many drivers were speeding, tailgating, as if the Northern Lights would be going off any minute and they needed to get somewhere fast to see them.

We stopped at McQuade Harbor. Too bright. Too many people. Too many headlights. As I later learned, this was the problem across Duluth, and likely the region. We were being lazy by not creatively finding a rural area to look to the heavens. The draw of seeing the lights over Lake Superior was likely a driving force.

So be it.

Despite the dispiriting traffic, we went to Stony Point. We took one more look and that was it. Sadly, we were hours ahead of peak. Mind you, the sky was cool looking, but it didn’t have that overwhelming undulation I remember from decades ago. That awesome roil.

I have often gone searching for the lights since moving here 15 years ago, and this was easily the best show I had seen. I’ll take that.

But it just didn’t floor me. Too many of us knew about the aurora, and that crowd killed any buzz I had hoped for. And the social media feeds from across the world. Everybody saw it.

No, better to happen upon the Northern Lights. And trick your mind that it’s your own private show. We talked about just hanging out at a fire camping and, boom, there they are, surprising entertainment for the night. Or just walking home and having them loom over you until you notice.

Too much information. Expectation. Hive minds. Overwhelming.

I took my now cold and sleepy friends home and then kept my promise of returning to that band. They were on a long break when I went in. I raised my fist to the sky, and waited, irritation coursing now, for the last set of the night. It was OK. Not as great as the last time I saw them, 10 years ago.

Perhaps that was the theme of the night.

Next time I hear about an aurora expectation, I’m just going to head out onto my lawn, undisturbed. Unless those meddling neighbor kids cut into my yard.

You know what I would yell at them. (While shaking my fist.)

Mike is a writer and page designer for the Pine Knot News. He can be reached at [email protected]

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