The end of the world is beautiful

I am parked on potato hill, north of town with the lights of Stockton, 15 miles further to the north. The lights of Stockton itself is a joke because there may be all of 10 street lights that are visible from here. The clouds are backlit my feet blow. How to describe it? it looks like dawn, twilight, but it goes on. The edges of the dawn reach straight above my head fingers of light that shift, suddenly, as if being cast, striated, by moving clouds. But this light is coming from above the clouds.

The few simple clouds that are present or backlit by this faint faintly colored light.

and this dawn, not only is it in the north, but the light doesn’t get any brighter the closer to the northern horizon you look. In fact, it appears to be the same. The same intensity. And rather than a sharp terminator from east to west, marking the boundary of darkness to the twilight to the Dawn. Instead this glow curves, it arcs back to the north in the east and in the west.

And it changes! It moves! very slowly, very subtly.

it is just bright enough to drown out the few stars behind it; that is space. I am tormented, staring at the screen on my phone recording my impressions of what I’m seeing and yet wanting to cast my phone aside so that my eyes may fully adjust to the subtle light. It’s in pinks and greens. It’s amazing and I’m seeing this so far south in North America.


From the back of my office, earlier, around 10 pm CDT, I was able to see the color in the sky – up to about 75° above the horizon – quite clearly. It was intensely pink. That’s a relative observation; it is to say, “Oh, that should be midnight blue, but its pink.” Not like the song, and not like in a full sunrise/set. Just clearly pink where pink shouldn’t be.

My office building is a 60’ deep building between an 80’ and a 100’ deep building, all of them one storey, and the backlot opens onto the alley between us and the next one storey building north on our block. There are a couple of streetlights, so the buildings are safely lit, but our little alcove was protected from direct glare (yes, and abysmally insecure at night) so I could see the color well.

Now, at 1:30 a.m., I had finished a video chat with my brother in Phoenix. He was patently not going to make the drive to a dark sky area, given it would take him at least an hour to get out of the glare of the metro. For me, I put away my folding chair and ashtray, hopped in my truck, and drove a mile north to the edge of town, and a half mile further, to the crest of McConkie Hill.

There, I put on my parking lights, got out, looked around, and began the earlier entry.

About the time I had finished, I climbed back into my truck to warm up, because of course I took off without a jacket. And then I saw the high beams of some yokel from town coming up the road. Turns out it was my neighbor from a few blocks over, Jerry. He stopped in the middle of the road beside me, shut it down and got out. He brought binoculars with him. About the same time — either the aurora intensified, or my eyes adjusted, but it became more… visual?

He went back to town to wake his wife.

I got my neck pillow out and leaned against my truck, looking straight up.

The arc of the aurora was not as far south as 10° from vertical, maybe more. I watched as “clouds”, wispy clouds, appeared and disappeared. Sometimes they showed up in a shooting arc. Sometimes they simply faded like a hallucination. Sometimes they appeared to shift and move like fingers of dawn. Most often, they behaved in a most un-sunrise like fashion.

They draped from east to west in irregular shapes. They were pointed, sharply, and then suddenly blunt, like watercolor on irregular paper. Then, just as Jerry returned with his wife, I was able to point to the north about 30° ascension, where a classic, vividly intense “falling ribbon” (my name for it) had appeared in green, glowing out from the faint glow behind it.

As the three of us stood there, snapping pictures with our phones, and me describing the science and doomsday of it, spots of light appeared to the southwest like someone with a million-candlepower torch shining a beacon into the sky, but it was probably a 50-mile wide glare, and the angle of the glow was impossible for a terrestrial source.

Again, amazing! I cannot begin to describe everything that I saw. Every moment was different than the one before, and yet all of it was this silent, private fireworks show for just the three of us. Even as I write this now I know I’ll never remember any exact image (and frankly, my iPhone SE camera sucks for this kind of thing). But I’ll always remember the romance of it, the mazement, the awe.

We agreed to try and meet here again Saturday night. Who knows if we’ll have it again this far south; it may be raining! We left at the same time.

It’s 2:50 am as I type this, and part of me wants to grab my coat, go back out and fall asleep in the bed of my truck. The other part of me knows that the beauty, the awe, is going on, even if I can’t see it. And I don’t need to. It’s not about me. In a way, it is perhaps better that I’m not watching it. I’m leaving it to be someone else’s private moment, maybe on the next road over, or maybe in another state.

There’s enough to go around.

And, I am certain: there will be a much bigger finalé soon enough.

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May 13, 2024

For A minute, I thought you lived just down the road from me — there’s a Stockton, CA.  But if you’re in CDT, that’s not where you are. 😄