Northern Lights. Familial Sights

Connecting with Nature. Connecting with my Father

Northern Lights

The trip was one-part anniversary present, one-part dream travel destination. Most of all, it was a long, longed-for spiritual re-connection with my father gone from my life for almost 40 years. The trip: to witness the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights.

Some people learn of the magnificent Northern Lights in science classes. Others in travel magazines or on TV. Not me. I learned about them from my father.

Northern Lights and Love

More specifically, I learned about them in a love letter my father wrote to my mother decades before I was born. The letter was one of almost 100 he penned in the early 1940s while working construction of a new U.S. military base on Newfoundland’s frigid Placentia Bay.

I read the letters, all yellow and faded, but lovingly saved in a scrapbook from that lonely time during World War II. Today both parents are gone, and I consider this scrapbook — this snapshot of their romantic youth — among my most cherished possessions.

The letters, written in pencil, were mostly scrawled late at night before my father fell asleep, often still in his wet and frozen clothes after working from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 at night.

My Amazing Father

My father, Big Julie, as we all called him, had a photographic memory. He wrote poetry, was astonishing at math, and quoted the great philosophers from memory all his life. He had hoped to become a journalist or a lawyer. Instead, he was forced to quit school in sixth grade to help support his family during the Great Depression.

By 28, he was married, had two sons, and was in deep debt. The hazardous, hard work in Newfoundland was steady and paid well — $95 per week.

His letters home reflect his yearning for his young wife, his children, and the extended family. They covered the mundane — from money worries to meals and the biting cold. They also, underscore his brilliance as he reflects on topics such as man’s place in nature and the universe.

Messages Home

Here are two samples:

“Never mind sending a radio. I am the envy of the camp. The reason: Mom’s pickled herring. Boy. It is good.”

March 17, 1942

“The days are getting colder and colder. A man’s past and home seem far away indeed. If not where for the mail here, it would seem that we have been forgotten and become lost souls in a world gone mad. Yet each morning we arise, knowing each in his own little way, like a tiny mole buried in the earth, serves some purpose and is part of the whole that shall someday be able to say, we helped build Argentia (Newfoundland). We built it well, for we built it for those who shall need it in the crucial days ahead.

“Planes will land here, and pilots will probably never stop to reflect on the toil and hardship men underwent that their wheels might have firm ground to set down on.

“Sailors and marines will dwell in the houses we build for them. Yet, never think of the men who built them. Each man here does a job, an important job. We don’t wear uniforms. We don’t have brass bands, but we have a loyalty to our country as sincere and as true that they may well be proud of the men of the mud of Argentia, who built another link in the steel ring of defense bases of Uncle Sam.”

5 a.m. November 27, 1941

His Influence was Large

While my father’s love of law inspired two of my brothers to become attorneys,  his love of words and writing fueled my own journalism and writing career.

And it was his awe-filled description of the Aurora Borealis that inspired my decades-long dream to see the Northern Lights. This year, thanks to my sweet husband, this trip was gloriously planned.

Our Aurora Borealis Trip

The day we crossed a snowy windblown highway to Borealis Basecamp, 28 miles outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, it was a “balmy” 1 degree F.

“It’s a nice day,” our driver cheerfully told us. “That’s what we say anytime it’s above zero.”

Unlike my father who witnessed the auroras outside in the wind and cold, we “hunkered down” in bed — in one of 20 modern geodesic igloos with a clear plexiglass ceiling, complete with luxury sheets, and front desk “wake-up” calls alerting us to aurora appearances!

Handsome Hubby outside our  cozy “igloo.”

Throughout his planning for this trip, my husband worried I would be disappointed if we didn’t see the sometimes-elusive Northern Lights.

I wasn’t worried though. I knew that even if we didn’t see the lights, I wouldn’t be “too” disappointed. The truth is I had already experienced them — through my father’s eyes and words, written eight decades before.

Big Julie lived a hard life. He’s been gone for almost four decades, but his legacy of love, learning, and awe has served me well in work, marriage, and every aspect of life. Just like the Northern Lights, he burns bright in my heart.

Pure, Unabashed Joy

And yes, my husband and I did see the swirling bands of the Aurora Borealis, sometimes vivid, sometimes pale wisps.

On the second night, buffeted by the vast solar winds and the magnetosphere, the lights spread across the sky like fingers of a giant hand. And in that moment, I felt what I really had come to find — connection and communion with my father.

🌌 🌌 🌌

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8 replies
  1. Debbi
    Debbi says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your father and what lovely thoughtful gift from your husband. I needed a tissue after reading it.

  2. Karen
    Karen says:

    Dear Karen
    I just finished reading you last 2 posts.
    It has been a while since I have made a comment on muddling.
    Your trip and descriptions are breathtaking.
    I now want to go.
    Maybe in my 81st year will I get there.
    Thank you. 🙏🏻


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