Aurora Borealis Maine July 4, 1971

On the 4th of July in 1971 John Gilmore, Mark McLaughlin, and Tommie Jordan and I left the South Shore of Boston to holiday in Maine. A large store at the New Hampshire border sold fireworks. John purchased $20 worth of M-80s and various rockets. The four of us stopped at my grandmother’s cabin on Watchic Pond for a swim and Italian sandwiches. After the sun set over the pines John lit off the fuses. My grandmother kept her distance from the explosive display. None of us oohed or aahed, but my ears rung from the M-80s. After the finale we bid my grandmother good-bye.

“I don’t want to hit traffic tomorrow.”

“You drive safe.” She gave me a kiss and we headed north in my 1968 VW Beetle.

By the Turnpike the trip to Bar Harbor was about two hours away, but I-95 was boring from Presque Isle to Miami, so I opted on the coastal road, smoking pot and listening to the Jefferson Airplane through the dark towns of Brunswick, Bath, and Wicassett.

Someplace outside of Camden John pointed to the sky.

“Check that out.”

“What is that?” Tommie asked from the rear seat and I cranked open the sunroof.

The sky shimmered with an unearthly light and John said, “I knew that weed was strong, but not this strong.”

“That’s not a hallucination. It’s the Aurora Borealis.” Mark declared with undebatable authority.

“How would you know?” John demanded before puffing on the bong. He was attending Quincy Community College to be a paramedic.

“Because I have a Boy Scout merit badge in astronomy.”

“Well, la-dee-dah.” John and Mark were childhood friends. Sometimes they were rivals.

“The aurora occur over the poles after a charged particles from the sun collide with atoms in the upper atmosphere riding the Earth’s magnetic fields.”

“They taught you that in Boy Scouts?” I had been a Star Scout with merit badges in marksmanship and canoeing, but suddenly understood that Mark’s universe was bigger than I had imagined for a mechanic at a Wollaston Beach garage.

“No, I was into the Space Race. I watched all the televised rocket launches from Cape Canaveral. I read everything about the stars. The Algonquins called the Northern Lights the ‘dance of the spirits’.”

“Damn, you are an expert.” John passed the bong to his longtime friend and I pulled over to the side of the road.

“I saw them once as a child. They had lit up the night sky above the Blue Hills.”

“I’ve never seen them.” Mark’s eyes were spellbound by the celestial spectacle.

The four of us got out of the VW and lay on the dewy grass. The cosmic phenomena sashayed across the sky as iridescent curtains blowing in the wind. The light show lasted about twenty minutes and disappeared like a mirage into the cosmos.

“The Aurora Borealis,” John remarked in awe.

“Aurora was the goddess of dawn.” I had read Bullfinch’s Mythology in high school.

“I was sort of like dawn at night.” Tommy was a hockey player for a Maine prep school. Last season a college scout recruited him to play at an Ivy League college. His grades were horrible, but his scoring led the league.

“That blew my mind.” John stood up and wiped the damp grass from his clothing.

“More than Jimi Hendrix’s at the Garden?” We had seen him together. It had been one of his last shows.

“Not better. Different.” Tommie looked us in the eyes. “But better the same way Jimi was the best.”

“Excuse while I touch the sky.” John grasped the air with his hands.

We returned to the car and continued north. Few cars were on US 1. Most tourists were in bed at the numerous motels along the road. John put ARE YOU EXPERIENCED on the tape player and Mark stuck his head out the sunroof hoping for another sign from the heavens, because one vision of the dancing spirits was not enough for a lifetime.


  1. celeste
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    aah, spoiled youth…or should i say beauty is lost on youth?!

  2. Posted April 14, 2013 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    never lost only found at a later date

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