During the autumn and winter months
in the northern areas of the world, the sun sends out is particles into
the 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. 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 if it was
summer or winter. 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 would be watching us. “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. “What on earth do you want to go
outside for on a night like this?”
The truth is, I didn’t care what the weather was like. It was so rare that
I was able to go out at night that I was willing to brave rain, sleet or
snow. “We want to go and get some fish and chips. There’s no school
tomorrow. 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. I didn’t mind. I ran over to meet my friends,
Alex and Bruce. We went to the Fish and Chip Shop and had 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 amazing 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
The next day my mother 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 them.
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
“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.