Were those the Northern Lights? – or: Aurora musings, a work in progress
Five months and seven years after coming to Oban, I've at last seen the Northern Lights with my own eyes – from the top of the hill behind my house. As I walked up, the ground ahead began to fall away. In the first hours of last night, wide beams of light seemed to reach up into the clear sky above an unusually bright northern horizon.
Up there I stood in wet grass beneath a dark sky glinting with thousands of diamonds. The air was still. Behind me lay the glare of Oban town, the humming pulse of a ferry in the harbour, the roar of cars...
Orion had risen to the south-east. I tilted my head right back. The Milky Way above me guided my eyes to Ursa Major. From it I got my proper bearings: at five times the distance between the two stars at the rear of the heavenly beast, I found the Lodestar that for millenia has helped people find their way across the northern darkness. Northward I looked.
By the houses to the east at my back, a fox barked and barked again. Its rasping voice came nearer, dipped away behind the big house to my right, grew louder briefly and then faded away as the creature fled to the rough ground beyond. Between my spot and bare-topped, round-crowned Battleship Hill, several cars roared past on the A85 below, speeding towards the villages nestled on the sea shore at the foot of mountains.
Due north, above the dark horizon, lay an almost blinding, blurry band of silvery light. I had to close my eyes. The afterglow was strong. As my retina continued to send a large lentil blob of brightness to my brain, I struggled to make sense of this new sight.
Open-eyed again I saw more broad beams of light rising up towards the stars. Slowly, ever so slowly, the beams – faintly tinged with green? – shivered across the horizon from north-west to north-east, moving closer together and drifting apart as they went.
Was that silvery sheen really the aurora borealis? Where was their bright-green hue? And did I really see faint rainbow specks or had my eyes played a trick on me?
Suddenly, to the west of Battleship Hill, it looked as though it was raining light. Or as if several more long, tall slivers of shimmering light were rising up to the stars. The hill stood in their way. The spectral glow grew fainter. The deep band of silver, though, remained like a blanket above the horizon, flowing higher then descending again, like a huge beast breathing in a restful sleep.
Just such a beast gathered itself in and came to rest on Battleship Hill, a cloud dragon whose long toothsome jaws devoured the stars. And the silver-green light lay still on the horizon.