Photo © 2009 Stan Brewer
By Amy Clark
One of the reasons I am drawn to the Northern landscape is the promise of someday seeing the brilliance of the “northern lights” in the sky. In fifth grade, the public school I attended paid for a mobile planetarium to take up residence for a week in one of our hallways. Ever since that brief foray into the fabricated dome of dark night sky, I’ve been hooked on stories of the stars. Stories of warriors sent to live in the skies, of heroes watching over us.
Aurora, in Roman mythology, was the goddess of the dawn. She is the sibling of her brother, the sun, and her sister, the moon. She had many lovers, and many children – one of who she is said to cry for as she streaks across the sky each morning, her tears causing the dew; which in winter turns to frost.
It is appropriate to talk about she who shepherds in the dawn as we approach the dawning of a new year, although not many stories of her exist in the realm of folklore. She is overshadowed by her siblings, and by the beauty of Diana, the fierceness of Jupiter and Mars. A minor mythological figure, but one without whom the significance of the transition from light to dark might be left unexplained, un-reflected on. Without dawn, would the sun even rise? We must wonder.
Right now, if I step outside onto the front deck, Aurora’s crystallized tears crunch under my feet. From this vantage point, I can almost reach the belt of Orion and pull the hunter down to stand with me. The only time I’ve ever seen stars appear closer was in the high desert of Colorado, with a group of local astronomers, as we looked through powerful telescopes. Somehow, to go North provides the illusion of going skyward – and the sky is the place where all dreams originate, in myth and folklore.
I chased my dreams along the highway that led me here, and now I spend my time trying to commune with them, to interpret them. It is the very last week of a year that brought more strife than blessing to me personally, and I shall be glad to shed that metaphorical weight. But as I look up at the hunter, I realize an affinity with him. I understand what it means to be forever poised with a strung arrow and a wide stance, bracing for the release. I imagine him hunting through the long darkness of winter nights, waiting for Aurora to wake and shed light on the quarry he has sought for so long.
There are people who seek to greet the new year in the very first place the sun is seen to rise; to greet Aurora, that is, just as she wakes from sleep. According to an NPR article, this very first place, for citizens of the United States, is either in Massachusetts or Maine, depending on the weather. And that is only if one discounts the territories, like the Virgin Islands. In essence then, the first sunrise remains elusive – a place better rooted in dreams than reality, a mirage more than an absolute.
But I am forgetting about the “lights” in my digressions. The northern lights appear in the darkness of the night sky, when she who brings the dawn is, of course, still asleep. While they are technically caused by magnetic storms, I like to imagine them as her dreams. Some are gentle, pale fires, shimmering and soothing. Others are passionate and full of energy – arcing across the whole sky. They are her fears and wishes and sorrows – her tragic endings and hopes for new beginnings.
Like most of you, I assume, I have many goals I want to reach this year. I want to publish a book, for instance, run a marathon, find a great love. I want to commune with Aurora and ask her to share her secrets with me. I want to dream dreams that rage across the sky in storms of red and purple and green. I want to convince my hunter to loosen his firm grip on the taut string – to finally let that arrow fly.
Amy Clark is a writer, educator and freelance editor, currently teaching at Des Moines Area Community College (go Bears!). Born and raised in Iowa, but having lived elsewhere in the Midwest and outside of it - Amy is currently exploring the concept of community in these short essays - what it means, and how it is forged by both people and place. She believes in the role of a writer as a conversation-starter, and hopes that some of her work will spark that. Please feel free to comment or email: firstname.lastname@example.org