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Chasing Light Pillars

New Paltz, NY, United States
4 Kudos
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This story is for those of you who have been afflicted with wanderlust, but aren't able to travel as often as you'd like. When life prevents you from fulfilling your need for adventure, try seeing your surroundings with a fresh lens. I love to visit neighboring towns in the Hudson Valley of NY to go on new hikes, try new foods, and see new sights. Even the same places change with the seasons, offering new colors and smells and experiences. You really can have a "vacation" without going very far, if even for just a few hours. This particular experience reminded me to continue to nourish my need for exploring the unknown, because it awakens an excitement within me which makes me feel alive.I am borderline obsessed with the aurora borealis. I have been known to check NOAA's aurora forecast as often as I check the weather, but it doesn't do me a whole lot of good since I've always lived in the continental US. The first time I saw the aurora was last fall on my trip to Iceland. It totally blew my mind, but it was a small show, and it only left me wanting more. What should have been a check on my bucket list actually fueled my interest even further. Last weekend, I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed and noticed that the Aurora Forecast page posted about a spike in activity. It seemed unlikely that I'd be able to see anything from New York, but I made a mental note to check things out. Around 1 AM on Saturday night, I was getting ready for bed and suddenly remembered to check the skies. I peeked out the window and saw vertical pillars of light. Unable to believe what I was seeing, I rubbed my eyes and allowed them to adjust for a moment. The pillars became even more visible, and appeared to be moving! I woke up Max and told him that I could see the aurora! I was in a frenzy. We took out the DSLR camera that our friend Christa gave us and started taking pictures from inside (it was a very cold night!) The pictures were coming out okay, but I decided to head out to get a better shot. From the backyard, I looked to the west and noticed an extremely bright pillar - it looked like a flagpole that was illuminated by a spotlight. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was now close to 2 AM, and I jumped in my car with the camera and drove about a mile south, to a dark backroad that has a great 360 degree view of the sky. What I found was breathtaking. Pillars of light shone in every direction. Some of them appeared to be flickering on and off, like a fluorescent light. The "illuminated flagpole" was the brightest of them all, shining like a beacon over the Shawangunk mountain ridge. I was exhilarated. The wind was blowing and the sky was glowing, and I set up my camera on this quiet backroad and took some pictures. After about 30 minutes, I noticed a car's headlights coming down the road. The driver slowed down as he approached, and rolled down his passenger's window. "What is going on?!?" he asked, confused. "I think it's the aurora borealis!" "Is this normal? Does this happen often around here?" "No!!! THIS IS TOTALLY CRAZY!" "I thought I was seeing things!" "You ARE seeing things!" I shouted. He drove off, and I spent another 30 minutes taking pictures as the lights flickered and eventually faded. I drove home, exhausted, and went to bed. The next day I did some research, and found out that these may not have been aurora borealis, but "light pillars", which are caused by light reflecting off of ice particles in the atmosphere. Either way, it was an amazing sight, and a funny coincidence that a. we saw these on a night when we were looking for the aurora, since the forecast was high, and b. that we don't see these more often in New York, where we have icy cold weather 5-6 months out of the year! This was a night I won't soon forget. If you want an adventure, keep looking around you - beautiful things happen everywhere, all the time!
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1 Comment

by nmschmidt1

03-14-2016

Wow! this is awesome.