Ken and Aurora


I started a blog entry about homeschooling and the challenges of facing family opposition but I have to take a break, gush and fawn over the writing of my current favorite, Ken Ilgunas.  His book, Walden on Wheels is one of those purchased from Amazon while researching the go-around-the-world project.  For now, I am a happy couch traveler gawking and salivating at stories other people tell but one of these days, I’ll have my own tales to share while on the road.

My husband shared what happened when he was in a beach in Africa and felt the loneliness of a solo voyager.  He wanted to swim in the sea but he couldn’t put down his backpack for fear of something being stolen.  Now that he has a family, he doesn’t have to travel alone.  Taking a trip as a family soon, we’d look out for each other while reveling in the world’s magnificence together.  Actually, we have been doing that a lot – trekking up and down the mountains of China, but soon we’d even be doing more of that and not limited to this country.

Ken’s words about the Aurora Borealis conjured a picture in my mind of the four of us–Jason, Joshua, Jimmy and I staring in awe at the stars in the sky wherever in the world that may be.  We’ll be together.

Forgive this rather long quote but I dare not cut it into pieces and ruin the experience for you.  In the italicized passages below, Ken describes his encounter with the Aurora Borealis in Coldfoot, Alaska where he has been stuck in a miserable menial job to pay off his student loan.

I felt a strange twinge of anger looking at the stars. It was as if I’d just learned of an inheritance that had been stolen from me.  If it wasn’t for Alaska, I might have gone my whole life without knowing what a real sky was supposed  to look like, which made me wonder: If I’d gone the first quarter of my life without seeing a real sky, what other sensations, what other glories, what other sights had the foul cloud of civilization hid from my view?

We can only miss what we once possessed.  We can only feel wronged when we realize something has been stolen from us.  We can’t miss the million-strong flocks of passenger pigeons that once blackened our skies.  We don’t really miss the herds of bison that grazed in meadows where our suburbs stand.  And few think of dark forests lit up with the bright green eyes of its mammalian lords.  Soon the glaciers will go with the clear skies and clean waters and all the feelings they once stirred.  It’s the greatest heist of mankind, our inheritance being stolen like this.  But how can we care or fight back when we don’t even know what has been or is being taken from us?

A pale green band appeared.  It inched across the sky, a luminescent caterpillar slowly nibbling its way to the eastern horizon.  Then several bands of light materialized–all parallel to one another–making it look as if the firmament wore a celestial comb-over.  Those pale bands began to pulse.  One ball after another would move down the green bands like a family of rabbits being digested by a python.  And suddenly the aurora bloomed into full color.  The sky lit up with spumes of reds, pinks, purples and blues that swooped, twisted, and curled into each other.  There was no sense, no order, no logic to the aurora’s movement.  It moved wildly and swiftly, changing into a different shape from one moment to the next.  It was a glowing, throbbing, sashaying curtain of color, a Rorschach test that looked like whatever you wanted it to look like: a heavyset grizzly, a woman’s hips, a highway climbing hills.  The aurora was a powwow of ancestral spirits–writhing apparitions, conjured from the depths of a village bonfire.  It was a desert storm, a million individual particles of light whipping over dunes in patterns that no human mind could comprehend or computer-generate.  The aurora is alien and unworldly, but it does not frighten or flabbergast; it is a tranquilizer that sprinkles down only its onlookers an opiate from the heavens.


I couldn’t pick a picture of the Aurora and figured no picture could capture it’s grandeur so instead I chose from Google images, paintings by Luiza Vizoli and Karla Nolan.  I wrote about Ken Ilgunas in a previous blog entry here: Serving Kafka


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