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the northern lights
By Margo Fallis 2007

During the autumn and winter months, the sun sends out its particles into our galaxy. When they collide with Earth’s atmosphere, it is usually near the magnetic north, causing a display of lights known as the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. The midnight sky lights up with beautiful shades of aqua, greens, and pale blues. They ripple back and forth across the heavens giving the lucky few who are witness to them a display of color and beauty.

I grew up in a small town in the highlands of northern Scotland where winter nights are long. The sun goes down in early afternoon and comes up late in the morning. My bedtime was at eight o’clock at night, no matter the season. This was strictly enforced by my mum and there were no arguments. One night my mum was called out of town to the city, to visit her sister. My dad was in charge. “Cheerio, Mum,” I called, waving at her as the taxi whisked her away. I smiled. With Mum gone, Dad would surely let me stay up late. He did during the other times she’d been gone. So, when eight o’clock came, I begged and pleaded with Dad to let me go outside with my pals.

“It’s freezing out there,” he said. “Why on earth do you want to go outside on a night like this?”

The truth is, I didn’t care what the weather was like. It was so rare an occurrence when I was able to go out at night that I was willing to brave the cold. I wanted to experience something new, something different. “We want to go and have some fish and chips. There’s no school tomorrow, Dad. Can I please?” I asked.

“All right, Jamie. Go on, but don’t tell your mum!” he warned.

There was no chance of that. Mum would never find out from me. “I won’t. I promise!” I shouted as I slammed the front door shut behind me. Dad was right. It was bitter cold, but I didn’t mind. I ran over to meet my friends, Alex and Bruce. We went to the Fish and Chip Shop and stuffed ourselves with deep-fat-fried haddock, greasy chips, some blood sausage, and peas. It was delicious. I think the taste of the food mixed with the taste of freedom, made it all the more enjoyable.

We came out of the restaurant and I looked up at the sky. “What is that?” I asked my pals.

“It’s only the Northern Lights. Don’t tell me you’ve never seen them before,” Alex teased.

The truth of the matter was that I hadn’t. I’d always been confined to my bedroom before it was late enough for them to be seen. I lied, “Oh, I just forgot what they were called. Of course, I’ve seen them before.” I don’t think either of my pals believed me. We ran down to the seashore. The waves rolled in, small and gentle, but I couldn’t take my eyes of those lights that danced across the sky. They were magical, supernatural, and mystical to me. We gathered seashells, threw stones into the water, gathered driftwood and looked for flotsam on the beach. We then found a dry spot on the sand and lay on our backs, gazing up at the Aurora Borealis. It was one of the grandest nights of my life.

The next day my mum returned and I immediately went back to my scheduled bedtime. The only difference now was that when I was supposed to be in bed sleeping, I’d sit at the window and watch for the Northern Lights to appear. Some nights I’d sit for hours.

The years went by and I left the highlands, moving to southern England to work. My job, wife, and children kept me busy and I didn’t get back to Scotland often. When I did go, it would be in summer. One day, one of my boys came home from school and asked me about the Northern Lights. I decided it was time to take my family back home to see them. Even though it was winter, we drove up to the highlands to visit their Gran and Granddad. “I don’t have to go to bed at eight o’clock, do I Mum?” I joked, hugging her tightly. She laughed. My dad gave me the ‘remember-your-Mum-is-never-to-know-I-let-you-stay-up-late’ look. I gave him a comforting nod of understanding. “Boys, would you like to go down to the seashore and see the Northern Lights tonight?” I asked my sons.

First, we stopped at the Fish and Chips Shop, which was still there, even after all these years. We filled up on haggis, fish and chips, and burgers. We ran down to the sea and gathered driftwood. After finding several pieces for their mum, we lay on our backs in the sand and watched the Northern Light’s display.

“This is so cool, Dad. Thanks for showing us this,” the boys said.

I felt a tear trickle down my cheek. “It’s good to be home,” I whispered.

the northern lights - scotland