It was 1962 when my parents packed my brother and me into the car, with an adventurous trip planned, starting with attending the Seattle World’s Fair. My father has always been the adventurous type, and so my brother and I — respectively ages 10 and 9 at the time — were excited about this trip. We started out from our Southern California home, and were happy to “hit the road” to adventure.
The miles of highway travel were filled with the usual mix of busy city driving and views, and the long stretches of seemingly endless highway. The intervening stays at a series of motels and hotels along the way were themselves mini adventures. And the miles were filled with a mix of “car games” (like ‘who can find the largest number of different license plates first’), naps, and a wide range of conversational topics and shared commentary about the views that zipped past our car windows.
The Seattle World’s Fair, when we finally arrived at that destination, was everything we had hoped for, and more. Living in Southern California, we had visited wonderful Disneyland many times, but the World’s Fair was in another league, altogether. The displays, shows, fellow tourists and architecture were stimulating and often totally unexpected and educational, in all ways. The sense of adventure and discovery was palpable, and I will forever remember the iconic Seattle Space Needle. But as wonderful as the Seattle World’s Fair turned out to be for us, the best was yet to come.
Following our World Fair adventure, Dad headed the car to continue northward, into Canada, for a magically memorable camping trip that would be crowned by one of my life’s peak events. The drive, itself, was a passage into some of the most gorgeous nature scenery one could hope to experience. The forests were lush and beguiling. And I cherish the memories of clear lakes and waterways in the most amazing range of blues and blue-greens typical of Western Canada. Dad explained to us that the colors were the result of all the many suspended mineral particles in the water, because of the glacier-melt that fed them. And, as always, Mom’s comments and exclamations of appreciation for all of this beauty added to our own enjoyment.
Dad had mapped out our journey, and so one night, toward the end of the day, having dined and rested at a local restaurant, we drove into the local forest to camp for the night. In those days — long before the now ubiquitous family vans — there were long and low-slung station wagons. And our family station wagon allowed for the seats to be dropped down to form a flat sleeping area large enough for three sleeping bags — for Dad, Mom and my brother. I, being the youngest and smallest, got to sleep in what we affectionately called the “gunner’s seat”. This was basically an area at the back of the car, intended for storage, and separated from the rest by a low partition. It was a cozy space for my own sleeping bag, and I got the extra bonus of viewing the night sky out of the large rear window of the car.
As everyone quieted for the night and we said our “good nights”, I fell asleep on my back, staring up at the cloudless, deeply black night sky, filled with more diamond-like stars than I had ever seen.
And then, some time later — and I still don’t know why, because the night was absolute and silent — I suddenly awoke. As I opened my eyes, I noticed a lightening of the sky, as if presaging the dawn. But even in that sleepy state, I knew I had not been asleep long enough for that to be the case.
And then, I was wide awake. Because the sky became absolutely filled with a glittering, shimmering light, and so I called out, to wake up my family and let them know. As we all watched, the glittering was suffused with a pale pink color that intensified slightly. And then, this vast sheet of shimmering color began to lift upward along an edge, and as if lifted by an invisible hand from above, it disappeared, and revealed another shimmering sheet, this time of purple, beneath it. As we all watched, alternating between rapt silence and exclamations of wonder and delight, we were treated to a series of these appearing and disappearing sheets of beautifully colored light in alternating colors of pinks, red, purples, greens and blues. They each declared themselves in turn, intensified in color, shimmered, and then lifted and faded, to reveal the next color beneath. Until, finally, uncounted minutes later, it all faded back into the black velvet of the night. And as the last color faded back into the night sky, my family sat, spellbound and grateful for the magic we had experienced.
The next morning, driving out of the forest and back onto the road to the nearest gasoline station, we were all still exchanging exciting comments about the incomparable Aurora Borealis light show we had witnessed. I remember that the gas station owner, overhearing our conversation, interjected his own comment. He was candidly filled with chagrin and not a little envy, stating that he had lived in the area for many years, and had yet to experience the Aurora Borealis, and yet we had visited for one night, and had gotten to see it. This was yet another confirmation for us of the special blessing we had been gifted, to witness such great magic above…