The Strangest Thing I Ever Did See

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?

26 thoughts on “The Strangest Thing I Ever Did See”

  1. You would think we would see the northern lights often here. We don’t.

    I remember how green the sky gets back in Luverne when a bad storm is about to hit. That is ominous. I also remember hearing thunder during a blizzard. That is very strange.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Good question, Steve, and I love “excited light”.

    The most recent that I recall was a spectacular sunset that we only partially saw, and we should have gotten on our bikes to get a clearer viewing spot. I know there are better ones, will try to remember some!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. One is certainly when we were up at Sweet Lake a year after Joel died. Six of us were in a pontoon boat near the spot where everyone would play water volleyball. While we were sharing memories, etc., an eagle flew in, circled above us a couple of times, and then perched high in the great tree (on the shore, where the kids would get on a low limb, swing out over the water and let go of the rope…)
    I will never forget that eagle circling, and then staying there the rest of the time we were on the water.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I’ve seen the AB three times, but the unforgettable time was up in the Boundary Waters while on a solo trip a few years ago (after a horrendous day of first not being able to find a portage (my fault; I thought I left from a different campsite than the one I’d camped on). I slogged through waist-deep water for 100 yds on a portage that was supposed to be dry (damn beavers!). And other trials and tribulations.

    Made camp at my new site, got a fly-by from a pair of Trumpeter Swans (about 10 feet above my head–but I heard their wings from about 50 yds behind me. Whoa! Then saw a moose cow and calf swim from a nearby island to shore, Ate, made a fire, and for some reason, I wasn’t tired. Not a cloud in the sky, so no great sunset. Tended the waning coals until about 10:30, was thinking about going to bed, but then THE SHOW started.

    As Steve said, most ABs are streaks and whirls of light in parts of the sky. The previous ABs I’ve seen were mostly green lights, maybe hints of blue and red. Similar to Steve’s, MY show was full sky, as if a giant, sheer-white cosmic bedsheet was being pulled over Earth. Not once, but over and over and over. The sheet would start on the horizon, flash across the heavens, then sort of dissolve. A few seconds or a minute later, the same thing. I don’t recall how long it lasted, but I was mesmerized the entire time.

    I have many other unforgettables, but I could write an essay about each one, and some I prefer to keep private anyway. 🙂

    Chris in Owatonna

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Crazy is right. I think I don’t share some of my memories mainly because I don’t think others will understand or appreciate how much those memories have “affected me” or become so personalized that no one would “get it” if I explained it to them. The main ones have todo with how music connects with my emotions.



  5. Sometimes it’s something I hear… I have been stopped in my tracks more than once because the birdsong I’m hearing is just so beautiful, spectacular, I can hardly believe it. Then I look to try and identify the bird, but usually can’t – some warbler I imagine.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Perhaps this is a different sort of astounding – certainly not the light show of an aurora: standing on the farm that was once my great great grandfather’s in Norway. It’s tucked in the rolling mountains/hills between Drammen and Kongsberg – nothing is flat, it’s all up and down, including the farm. We had stopped at the country church that had been the “family” church earlier in the day (the family who drove us out would bury their mother/grandmother, my grandfather’s cousin there a few months later in the church yard) and then drove winding roads to the farm. It is still an active farm, growing rye and raising chickens, though it has not been in family hands since my great great grandfather and most of his sons moved to Wisconsin. Standing there with the grain waving in the breeze and looking out at the next set of hills I thought about those men, selling the farm that had been home and most of their possessions except what they could fit into a hand cart – and then setting off on foot to make their way to a boat in the fjords that would bring them to the US. It was breathtaking. The view is gorgeous, sure, but imagining leaving that for something that was entirely new and unknown in the hopes that the farming and life would be easier…I stood a long time and stared out at those beautiful hills.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Nice Steve. I’ve seen AB a few times but not often are they as bright as you describe. Often it’s just a few dull wisps.

    I’ve seen a bright green streak in the sky that was in the news the next day but not really explained.
    I remember being at an air show and a P57 Mustang flew over and I’ll never forget the sound that airplane made and I tried to image what it must have been like on the air fields in WWII.
    Same with a B17 fly over.

    There are certain days out in the fields when the clouds are just the right shade of puffiness and white and the sky is just the right blue and the ration of clouds to sky is picture perfect and I have to just stop and take a mental picture.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I’ll also never forget the night sky when were vacationing in Utah mountains – seven of us walked to the end of the road where it was a clear view of the night sky, and no moon – I was completely bowled over by the # of stars we could see, and we had fun trying to find various constellations (besides Ursa Major and Minor).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think many people don’t have a clue about what the night sky used to look like. A bunch of guys took a dogsled trip into the BWCAW once. We came out at night under a sky just filled with stars of all sizes. We were just stunned to see how black the night was and yet how bright all the stars were. Some seemed close enough to touch. I think some folks live a whole life without seeing that kind of sky.

      Liked by 4 people

  9. Completely OT – Tonight Hans and I “celebrated” our forty year anniversary. Celebrated is in quotation marks because despite the longevity of our marriage, there have been plenty of rough spots where there was nothing much to celebrate. However, we persevered, and tonight we rewarded ourselves with a nice dinner at a local Italian restaurant.

    The restaurant made the mistake of seating us at the table over which the rotary switch for dimming the lights was mounted on the wall.

    We arrived at six, and the lights were not yet on, but as light outside faded, the room got darker. That’s when a waitress, unceremoniously, reached across me and turned on the lights over the tables, full glare. I could see people at other tables reacting negatively to this sudden change, and from where I was sitting, it was obvious that most of us were not pleased with this development. So I reached up an dialed down the light a notch or two, and people at neighboring tables smiled, nodded in approval and even gave me the thumbs up. Half an hour later, the waitress was back and once again dialed up the light. People at adjoining tables looked at me expectantly to see if I would once again turn it down a notch. I did, and got smiles, and encouraging nods from everyone. As people were leaving they stopped by our table and thanked me for interceding on behalf of those of us who objected to this careless and abrupt change in the ambiance.

    Also, halfway through our dinner, someone decided to turn up the volume of the formerly unobtrusive background music. Necks at every single table were craned to see why the heck this happened, and it was obvious that none of us were pleased with this change. I made the request of one of the waitstaff to please turn it back down, and they did. But it makes you wonder, what the hell were they thinking? We mentioned this to our waiter later, and agreed that it was annoying and that he occasional got complaints about it. But he acknowledged that most people grouse about it in private, and don’t do anything about it.

    It was really one of the more bizarre displays of disregard for the customer that I have seen in a restaurant. I have been to this restaurant before, and I really like it. The food is excellent, prices are reasonable, and it has a nice vibe, but damn, tonight would have been very different had we not been seated where I was in control of at least part of the annoyance.

    End of rant.

    Liked by 2 people

        1. So now I can put “lighting designer” on my resume?

          It was really quite astonishing, how completely clueless the waitress
          was. It was as if “turning lights on at designated time” was on her job description. She didn’t look around the room to see how people reacted. Had she done that, she would have toned it down herself. Instead she left it to this renegade to take care of it.

          Liked by 3 people

    1. Happy anniversary!

      I was amused to see that someone posted a congratulatory message to you on Facebook, and Facebook generously offered a translation for those of us who don’t speak Danish. The translation read “Happy birthday to you 40th anniversary, Margaret and Hans. I hope you celebrate it with manners!”

      May you always celebrate with manners.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I wasn’t aware of the translation, which is funny, but we did celebrate with manners – sort off. Is it considered bad manners to undo the lighting that the waitress has prescribed?

        An old friend from college saw my response to Jytte who posted the initial congratulations. He Googled my response to Jytte’s inquiry about how we were going to celebrate. My response was that we were going to “eat with a knife and fork,” which is a Danish expression for going to a “fancy” restaurant. Harold sent me a private message expressing his hope that we were doing something other than eating with a knife and fork, and I responded by telling him what that expression meant. We both had a good laugh.

        It was a good evening. We might last a few more months.

        Liked by 3 people

  10. I suppose the most astonishing thing I’ve seen was the the July 1987 “superstorm” that dumped around eleven inches of rain on St. Paul in a stretch of about eight hours. I was on Shepard Road going to a friend’s place during a particularly intense period of rain. I had to stop the car because I could no longer see the road. I tried to pull over to where I thought the shoulder might be, although I was only guessing. The rainfall was so heavy it seemed as if I had somehow accidentally driven underneath a waterfall.

    Liked by 2 people

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