The living sky
The Earth lives within the larger body of the solar system; every planet a uniquely marvelous manifestation of minerals and gasses, with perhaps some liquid and frozen components or molten rock and volcanism cracking through the surface, each world alive and dynamic in its own ways. One of Earth’s many wonders is its incredibly dynamic atmosphere; winds carrying seeds and weather and scents, clouds shifting shape from moment to moment and changing color as they slip through the edges of the day and night, stars sprinkled and spinning across the night sky. At the highest latitudes, where the nights are long and cold, and the highest altitudes, the atmosphere thinning to nearly nothing, the earth’s physicality is expressed in subtle electromagnetic fields, which come alive in dancing waves of light, enlivened ions given color and motion when our local star exhales great gusts of itself in waves of charged particles that sweep past our tiny home of earth, water, fire, and air.
In the past couple of years, several filmmakers have been producing stunning time-lapse films of the natural world, utilizing high-definition cameras, sensitive digital CCDs, and sometimes even slow cinematography-style tracking shots. Today, I came across (thanks, Dish) the most compelling northern lights film I’ve yet to see; the sheer beauty of the motion and color, as well as a welcome variety of tones and intensities, kept me riveted through the entire five minutes (which, sadly, is quite an accomplishment for online video!).
The one time I was lucky enough to experience a full ribbons-of-light-overhead aurora display, in my backyard in Old Town, Maine in the winter of 1980-81, I likened it to a visual version of the rippling sounds of the Mahavishnu Orchestra….this film captures that blend of fluidity and surprise, intense dynamics, and sheer wonder like no other I’ve seen: