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story.lead_photo.caption Photo courtesy Lisa Kelley It was one of the best viewings of the Northern Lights in recent memory -- and a fitting reward for bravery.

To celebrate my aging process last week, I embarked on a journey farther from home than I'd ever been -- near the Arctic Circle of Alaska -- in hopes of seeing the elusive Northern Lights. While I'd traveled alone many times, I was a bit nervous, like I was going to another planet. Silly girl, I chided myself, and gleefully boarded the plane.

Fourteen hours and eye bags later, I arrived in Fairbanks. The rental car agent took one look at my driver's license and let out a guttural moan. "Whoa, Arkansas ... a few rules of the road. If you run off the road, you might be there a while. If you're in a snow drift, make sure you get out and clear the snow from the tailpipe or you'll gas yourself. And don't forget to plug the car into a heater if the temperature dips below zero or the oil will freeze. Have fun!"

Fun, yes, right! As the glass doors of the airport slid open, I emerged as though I was starring in the opening sequence of The Mary Tyler Moore Show -- arms wide open, huge smile and tossing my hat in the air. I made it!

Then I breathed. The temperature was -5 degrees. It was 3 a.m. and black-hole dark. The rental car was parked in Russia, conveniently by a large pipe with outlets. It was not plugged in.

In short order, I learned why God put me in the South. Alaskans live in all-day darkness and drive on a skating rink for months on end. No painted lines can be seen on roads or parking lots. You drive slowly and expect folks to get out of the way -- like driving in Bella Vista, only colder.

I'd signed up months in advance for an Aurora outing which provided travel miles out of town, along with new camera equipment and instruction on how to capture the lights. Hours before the outing, the class canceled. It was a slim to none chance of seeing the Aurora that night. The next night was better, but they were booked.

I texted a friend who sent shutter speeds and ISO settings in hopes my ancient camera might film something should anything appear. I planned to strike out on my own and then ... I fell asleep.

At 12:30 a.m., something woke me, urging me to go. This urgency usually means a bathroom excursion, but this felt different. Though I was warm and sleepy, the still, small voice persisted. I bundled in 12 layers and drove miles north of town to a desolate field known to be prime Aurora viewing. It was empty because no lights were expected. Cold and alone in the dead of night, I felt like a child lost in an unheated department store. So, I prayed.

Locals say it was one of the best shows in recent history. And since I can resist anything but temptation, I may have sent my pictures to the class cancelers. Like Mae West once claimed, I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.

NAN Our Town on 03/14/2019

Print Headline: A gamble that paid beautifully

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