Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms.
I’ve lived long enough to see some remarkable things. Because I’ve spent so much time outdoors, most of my memorable experiences happened there. That can be frustrating. It is difficult—possibly impossible—to describe experiences to people whose life experiences don’t include much time outdoors. If you’ve never stood deep in a cattail marsh that is backlit by a low November sun . . . well, if you’ve never been there, I probably can’t make you understand what it is like.
Yet I can describe two of the most astonishing things I’ve ever seen. I’ve researched both of these experiences on the internet. Because they were “rare” events, there isn’t a lot of documentation for them. By definition, rare events don’t happen often! I’ve confirmed that both of these events happen now and then. That gives me the comfort of knowing that my memories could be correct.
The first experience was an incredibly vivid aurora borealis display. We witnessed this show in June of 1973. My erstwife and I were living in the basement of a fly fishing tackle shop near Brule, Wisconsin. Brule is far removed from the bright lights that prevent most people from enjoying the night sky. While Brule isn’t as far north as some towns in Minnesota, it lies close enough to the Arctic Circle to offer frequent aurora displays.
This particular aurora was stunning. Every other Northern Lights display I’ve seen was isolated in a particular section of the sky, usually near the northern horizon. This display, by contrast, seemed centered directly overhead. It filled the sky, encircling us with excited light. Although this description belies the majesty of that aurora display, I’ve always compared that amazing display as a “Jello mold” that surrounded us with shafts of neon light. Imagine entering a snow globe and being totally enveloped in its beauty. It was like that.
Apparently, auroras like that one have the un-poetic name of “overhead displays.” Such displays do happen, but almost always in Arctic regions. That aurora was both intense and persistent. We wandered around for nearly an hour, heads tipped toward the heavens and our mouths open with astonishment, while the whole night sky rippled in every direction around us.
The other amazing sight happened just a year later, in June of 1974, in downtown Duluth. We were driving in a southwest direction on what used to be the main thoroughfare in the city (before the freeway was built through town). Humidity levels had been extremely high that day. A thunderstorm erupted, as heavy as any rainstorm I’ve experienced. Rain hammered down in sheets that reduced visibility to a few yards. Rivers of rain flowed down the street because the culverts could not accommodate that much water at once.
I glanced left as we descended a steep hill. Just as we passed, a manhole cover exploded and went spinning high in the air. Manhole covers weigh from 200 to 250 pounds. They don’t, as a general thing, go flying. But a sudden surge of rainwater in city sewers can build up enough pressure to blow them. About a block or two later, a second manhole lid blew and went flying as we drove past it. Both eruptions catapulted manhole covers skyward like cast iron tiddlywinks.
I recently checked the internet for confirmation of this. It is apparently common for water pressure to build up under a manhole cover, but the usual result is that the cover will flop up and down or “dance.” The internet offers several examples caught on video film. When a cover blows, it rarely goes high. That leads me to wonder if those two covers in Duluth sailed as high as I remember. Maybe the fact we were on a steep hill caused a torrent of water to suddenly explode under those two covers. I guess I’ll never know.
Have you seen something so astonishing you’ll never forget it?