"The Light Before Dawn"

An Alaskan Short Story Adventure by Alaskan Artist Dianne Roberson
Valdez, Alaska
Dianne's Jeep
Alaska Artist Dianne Roberson with her
dog, Sadie Faye, in Alaska.
Reaching for the ice scraper, I felt for the handle while trying not to take my eyes off the endless void beyond the
Alaska road.  Unable to see where the road ended and the sky started, I stared at the tunnel of snow whirling in my
path.  The
northern lights would be difficult to see in this blizzard.  My gloved fingers touched the scraper, then slipped
and pushed the slippery plastic handle further away.  As the tires hit another big chunk of ice in the road, the ice
scrapper slid to the floor.  It was almost impossible for me to see out the windshield.  Ice was forming on the inside of
the glass.  I looked at the floor for an instant, spotted the scraper and grabbed it. The much-needed tool now in my
hands, I quickly looked back to find the road.   

Out of the whirlwind of snow, two huge, bright eyes anxious for combat stared at me. Right in the center of the road in
front of me was a gigantic
bull moose.  His full rack of antlers, as well as his thick hair, was covered with ice.  His eyes
darted out of the blizzard like balls of fire; his red tongue flickered out of his gaping black mouth along with a
thundering yell.  With a jolt of power, I hit the brakes and jerked the steering wheel to the right, trying to miss him.  The
brakes locked, the jeep skidded!  In my panic I held onto the steering wheel too long and the jeep did a full circle; then
another, then ended in a snowbank at the bottom of a hill.  Think goodness, the land was bare in my path.  Even in
four-wheel drive, the wheels just spun out.  To the left of the jeep was a large birch tree.  I hooked the cable from my
winch onto it and pulled the jeep out of the deep hole the wheels had dug.  I couldn’t see how to get back to the
pavement, except for following my tire tracks which lead to the
moose still standing in the same spot.  At least the
inordinate beast was marking the road for me.  Looking back at the tire tracks, I could see I missed him by just a few
feet.  The dominant male stood stately as he again was the superior force in this rugged territory.

After my mean road machine, alias trusty jeep, had climbed to the road again, I had a moment of confusion about
which way to drive.  It was just one awesome whiteout.  I decided to go in the direction with no tire tracks.  I drove off
with the
moose walking down the road in the opposite direction.  If it just wasn’t so dark I wouldn’t be so tense.  I had
started out from Palmer early that morning, before daylight.  Of course, before daylight!   If I waited for daylight in our
Alaskan winters, I wouldn’t go very far.  Winter days here are not much longer than a double feature and lunch.  It was
late morning before the sun came up and early afternoon when darkness approached.  This winter had bought more
than the usual amount of gray, snowy days.  The sun was a reluctant visitor to Knik River Road; especially up on the
mountain near my art studio.  The sunrises that were so spectacular all summer had reduced their appearances this
winter to a brief peek around the
Talkeetna Mountains.  When the sunlight ends in the Mat-Su Valley, during the
winter, convulsive aurora spasms illuminate the black skies.  On clear nights, I watched these heavenly phenomenas
from the windows in my warm studio.  The next morning I interpreted my visions in paint on canvas.  However, at least
once each winter I get a traveling urge and journeyed to different arenas.  I heard that
Valdez, Alaska is a beautiful
place for viewing the northern lights.

This week it was cold but very sunny.  I was eager to get out and enjoy the sunshine after so many weeks of bleak
snowy days.  The holiday season was here; in fact, it was the day after Christmas.  I wanted to get out and about.  I
had tried several avenues of public transportation without any luck, before I remembered the reason I bought my jeep.  
My freedom jeep took me anywhere, anytime.  I even had a winch installed on it, and bought several gasoline cans.  
Christmas was a family holiday and most of the services in Valdez might be shut down.  I was prepared to eat and
sleep in my jeep if I had to. Telephoning for reservations or information was not an option for me.  It took away my
creative control.  I work best spontaneously.  

As the road neared the Tiekel River, it started to snow.  Soon the snow was so deep that I could barely see the orange
tips of the snow markers on the side of the deserted road.  Music from my tape recorder accompanied me as I sang
across the miles, scraping ice and sipping hot coffee.  After awhile, the snow stopped and the stars burst out of the
dark sky to lay their sparks of light on the new snow.  With a clear sky, I could see well enough to chance a stop.  I
warmed some vegetable stew on my one-burner propane stove while I set up my camera on a tripod and took photos
of the magnificent mountains reaching up to the star-studded universe.  The timer on my camera enabled me to take a
few shots of myself in the snow.  Suddenly, a rhapsody of light unfolded in the luminous drapery of an
aurora curtain.  I
consumed the untamed dances of this light before dawn, obsessed with hunger for a link to the cosmic powers.  
Arrayed in the
northern lights, I continued on through the night, slowly and most pleasantly marked my way to Valdez.

Crossing Thompson Pass, I saw a radiant red light in the sky.  It appeared briefly as a glowing streak that swiftly
climbed up the stars and then faded off, only to return, again rippling across the horizon.  I found a clear spot to pull
over.  Killing the headlights, I sat and stared into the dark night.  Out here in the wilderness with no electric lights to
dim my vision, no pollution to haze the sky, and no buildings to block my view, I felt like I had the front row seat in a
theatrical production.  Higher in the sky an
aurora green curtain reappeared. I watched as it rippled through the
heavens.  Bright green just above the red glow, the curtain faded to various shades of greens and grays then gave off
white streaks as it reached up to the universe.  Alone in the silence, my senses were alert and all my attention was
concentrated on this awesome display of nature’s radiant magnetic universe.

I got out of the jeep to get a better view.  Turning full circle, I could see the aurora dance.  It seemed to be moving to
fast music as the green and white lights, although transparent, were strong and bright.  Adding to the grandeur, the
stars twinkled through to magnify the phenomenal vision.  Leaning back on the hood of the jeep, I was able to see the
full extent of the aurora curtain.  Soon I was on top of the hood and laying down looking straight up at the northern
lights dancing across the sky.  They disappeared then lit up the sky from a different point again and again.  A sharp
crackling noise broke the silence briefly.  The red lights near the horizon faded into the black night, then became an
almost eerie red and violet tone.  Ruby streaks appeared, only to break up, like wine spilled on velvet.  Silver specks of
ice flickered in the air close to me, and I knew it must be below zero.

Reluctantly leaving my prime viewing lounge, I climbed into the jeep to warm up.  I was grateful for the heater, but too
excited to stay in the warm jeep.  With a hot mug of coffee, I was ready to endure the cold again.  Leaning back on the
hood of the jeep, I was greeted by cascading sheets of aurora ribbons, while I became lost in this mystic moment.  
Beckoning spirits from the arctic past seemed to linger in splendor as their forces united with the
aurora, banishing all
doubts of a supreme power.  All too soon the lights became subdued, and I began shivering in the cold.  As the soft
glow of morning light broke through the polar phenomenon, I glimpsed a brief union at the connection point when the
ambient aurora borealis surrendered to the joy of a golden dawn.

Valdez was sleeping deep in its mammoth accumulation of snow when I arrived.  I found only one restaurant open for
breakfast.  The look of awe from the waitress as she served me ice cream covered pancakes accompanied by the big
boy breakfast special, made me laugh.  Enjoying the freedom of choice without criticism, this solo diner ordered a
piece of hot pie.  There were many available rooms at the hotels and soon I was immersed in a hot bubble bath
followed by a twelve hour snooze.  Then I took a tour around town until I got weary of reading the “closed for the
holiday” signs.  The sun hugged the horizon as a coy seductress beckoning me into the night before it vanished to the
other side of the planet.  I steered the jeep back to the Richardson Highway.

The trip back to Palmer was illuminated by the aurora borealis and prompted many enjoyable stops.  Luckily there
were no quarrelsome moose in my path or blizzards to endure.  Upon returning to my studio, I rapidly unpacked.  
Impassioned by the magnificent northern lights, I anxiously gathered my paints and began the first of many paintings
inspired by the light before dawn.

Dianne Roberson is a free-lance artist, writer, and photographer who works from her studio in Palmer, Alaska and on
line at:  
http://www.artworldplus.com where you can view her prints and original paintings.

Dianne Roberson |    Palmer, Alaska  99645  

Phone:  907-775-4229  |   E-Mail:  
Alaskan Artist Dianne Roberson Jeep
Anchorage, Alaska.
Copyright 2001       ©  Dianne Roberson  All rights reserved.