A family I know recently traveled to Iceland to see an aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights. Unfortunately, just because you head north doesn’t mean you’re going to see the light, which is what befell that band of ambitious travelers.
The aurora borealis is an unpredictable phenomenon caused by the solar wind, the particles of which, when they hit the Earth’s magnetic field, ionize and light up the sky in one of the most incredible displays of color.
I know, because I’ve seen it in, of all places, Upstate New York.
I was working the copy desk at the Oneonta Daily Star newspaper on a Friday night in 1993 when the cops reporter burst into the newsroom and told us the northern lights could be seen from the parking lot. We ran out to see for ourselves and, of course, were stunned by the luminescent show.
Some 15 years later, when my wife suggested we go to Alaska to see the northern lights, I recounted the story. She was incredulous. She was in the same town on the same night. How did she miss it? Well, I said, it was a Friday night, she was in college and probably doing what students do on a Friday night. Or, in fairness, she might have been studying.
I mention this because I was recently part of a Suffield Observer field trip to the McAlister Intermediate School to talk to fifth graders who were starting a journalism project. Part of their assignment was to find a story, do the reporting and write an article. The trick is to come up with an interesting story, and the looks on those fifth-grade faces suggested that maybe they thought Suffield lacked interesting story ideas.
Not true, I said. There are great stories all around us. All you have to do is look around. For example, the border to our north may just seem an imaginary line, but it actually reflects a nearly 200-year-old dispute that was settled when Massachusetts swapped towns for water rights, making Suffield a permanent part of Connecticut. Think about that the next time the Huskies win a national championship.
It is far too easy to dismiss where you are as inconsequential, especially as so many voices for so many self-serving reasons attempt to reinforce that notion. In fact, where you are, wherever that may be, could be the most interesting or important place to be.
If you keep an open mind and look around every now and then, you never know, you just might witness something extraordinary.