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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

No northern lights

Last week a friend and I decided to take a late-night drive and see if we could catch a glimpse of the northern lights.

Also known as the Aurora Borealis, the northern lights are a natural light display. Though rarely seen south of New York’s northermost counties, astronomers reported that a massive solar had shaken up Earth’s magnetic field, expanding the reach of the Aurora Borealis. The big question, then, was weather the northern lights would be visible, or obscured by clouds — a strong possibility, according to the weather reports. Having never seen the northern lights before, my friend and I decided to err on the side of caution, and headed out to Thacher Park shortly after 11 p.m. on Thursday. We’d heard that the northern lights wouldn’t be visible until about midnight, and didn’t want to get there too early.

When we got to Thacher, we were surprised by two things: The crowd that had gathered by the side of the road, and the bright flashing lights of the four or five police cars that had pulled onto the shoulder. I liked the idea of joining a large, spontaneous gathering of amateur astronomers, but not if it meant skywatching under police watch. So we decided to drive around for a while and circle back later, as it would be hard to find a better vantage point than Thacher’s long, steep escarpment.

During our drive, we kept peering out the windows and even pulled over a few times, but never saw the northern lights. And it was very cold. At one point, we stopped and retrieved a carton of chocolate ice cream from the trunk of the car, which made for a tasty late night snack, albeit one I never quite recovered from. Because when we returned to Thacher, I was chilled. The police had departed, and the onlookers had moved from the side of the road to the overlook. But there was nothing to see. No shimmering reds, greens or yellows. Just the bright lights of Albany and other Capital Region communities.

“I don’t think we’re going to see anything,” my friend said.

“Let’s go,” I said. “I’m cold.”

I later decided that the weather had failed us, and came up with the term “weather fail” to describe what we had experienced. If someone were to ask, “What happened the other night? Did you see the northern lights?” I would have replied, “No, it was a weather fail.” That said, our trip to Thacher was kind of fun. I’d never driven out there at night before, and the view was pretty, even without the Aurora Borealis.

I try not to take the weather too personally. But as winter grinds on, I’m finding it harder to do so. The way I look at it, this winter has been nothing but a series of weather fails. Every time we get a nice layer of snow on the ground, there’s a thaw, heavy rain and/or a freeze, which ruins the cross-country skiing conditions. And cross-country skiing is one of the few things that makes winter bearable.

However, there are some upsides to unseasonably warm, springlike weather. Instead of skiing on Sunday, I put on my shorts, a T-shirt and a fleece, and went jogging. It was far from ideal: Due to heavy rain, there were a lot of puddles to splash through, and I returned home soaking wet. But I felt great, and after a hot shower and smoothie, I felt even better. I guess the lesson is that sometimes the weather fails you, but with the right adjustments, you can still have a pretty good time.

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