Saturday, September 13, 2014

Northern Darks

Way to turn viewing the Northern Lights in Boston into something that doesn't happen every day, Linda. It goes something like this:

Me: "Hey, 98, let's go view the Northern Lights tonight. They don't usually come this far south."
98: Grumble, grumble, grumble
Me: Coax and coerce
98: "Okay, but I reserve the right to pitch a fit the next time you ask me to go someplace"
Me: "Deal"

The sign, according to 98, we should have read
before we began our hike. 
I have a place I usually go for night viewing of sky events. Tom and I saw Hale-Bopp at Halibut Point in Rockport, which is as far out on the Rockport peninsula as you can go. But it takes about an hour to get there, especially at night, with the curvy, narrow roads. And I wasn't willing to graciously accept the "OMGMOMThisIsSooooooLame" if the light were anything less than magical, and then have an hour ride home after that, so Halibut Point was out. We opted instead to hike an easy hike to Wright's Tower, right here in the Middlesex Fells. It's about a mile from the house, and about a quarter of a mile into the woods, so we drove to the little parking lot they maintain that holds about 8 cars.

What I hadn't mentioned to 98 was that I had only done this hike a couple of times, and probably not in 10 years, and never at night. I checked a map to get a vague notion of where we were going. And I did know there was a trail leading up to the tower. Flashlight in hand, we got there about 8:45, well after dark. We headed out, and, in my defense, only made one wrong turn. When it became clear I could no longer hide the fact that I had no idea where we were, we turned around, with minimal audible grumbling from 98.

Just about the time 98 was going to steal my flashlight and push me off the next ledge, we bumped into a couple of young guys backpacking up to the tower to see the lights, too. "Hey, are you lost? At least you had the good sense to bring a flashlight. Follow us." Turns out they were both studying to be park rangers, and didn't have a flashlight! They did remember their beers, at least. Not sure what we were getting into, the four of us continued on the trail to the tower. Which was locked, of course.

Norther Darks
Aurora Bor-e-dark-is
Between the light pollution and the trees towering above us, there was not a single northern light to be seen. Not an electromagnetic wave. Not even static electricity. Busted.

Confident we can find our way back down alone, we left the boys at the tower base and head back to the car. If only that were the end of the story.

Nope. There's a whole chapter two.

We get back to the car and head to the parking lot exit, only to find the gate has been shut and locked by Department of Conservation and Recreation. We back up to the entrance, and no good, that's locked, too. I wasn't even going to drive the damn car, but it was jussssst far enough and I was jusssst lazy enough to justify it. So I pull out the cell phone, with which I was going to take epic photos of the northern lights, and call the Medford police. who advise me to call State Police, who advised me to call DCR, who I know won't be open for business, So I just asked my question: If I leave the car here and walk home, will it be towed when I come back in the morning? Turns out it won't be towed, so I leave (98 is long gone, in case you're wondering) and walk the mile or so home. If only that were the end of the story.

Nope. There's a whole chapter three.

I left the house at about 8:15 this morning with the dog to go get the car. When I was about halfway there the phone rings, and it's 98, which is odd because he's not normally awake at 8:30 in the morning on a Saturday morning. Little did I know that leaving a car overnight in a parking lot at a wilderness area triggers certain ... events. AKA search party. Oops.

A state trooper, getting no answer to the bell or knocking or announcing his presence, had let himself in through the door I had left ajar (I was only going to be gone a few minutes) and found his way to a sleeping 98's room, "Where are you, Mom? There a police officer in my room wondering where you are." Oops.

The officer arrived at my car at the same time I did. He brought me up to speed on the situation. As I now understand it, if a car is left overnight in a lot by a large wilderness area they begin with the assumption that the occupants are lost in the woods and commence a search. While the trooper notified DCR I was okay and accounted for, I waited for the search party (I met a DCR ranger named Mike) to return to the lot.  I apologized profusely to the officer and the ranger, and of course took their pictures. I have a blog, yo.

98 says I'm not allowed to leave the house after dark ever again.

The Equipment

The Manpower (some of these guys were camera shy!)
Seriously, though, I want very much to thank the Massachusetts State Police out of the Medford barracks and the Department of Conservation and Recreation, responsible for maintaining the Middlesex Fells, for making such efforts to ensure my and all Massachusetts residents' and visitors' safety.

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