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Surprised As If By Magic

Sigurd F. Olson, in his book Runes of the North, affectionately calls them the Ross Lights.

They appear as if by magic. They arrive in contrast to every other color and hue; they are twilight's last stolen gift to us all.

Ross Lights are the exceptional moments when the slanting rays of the setting sun hold in blaze gold on an unsuspecting branch.

They are found, Sigurd Olson writes, on a streak of open water, "the channel a shifting kaleidoscope of rose and vermillion, orange and mother-of-pearl against the blue."

On another occasion, skiing in the gathering dusk, the sun made "pine cones masses of gold," and grosbeaks (he wrote) "turned to Chinese red."

Beautiful whenever they appear to grace us in our travels out-of-doors.

"One of the most dramatic sights in the north," he lyrically writes as "this light on a field of wild rice."

This, too, is a time of magic.

Sunset fire is not always the way I have thought of the Ross Lights.

For me, I have always described it in another way. Perhaps, long ago, I should have reread Sigurd Olson's chapter to get the nomenclature right.

I have only experienced this a few times in my life. Ross Light paints the world with its pastel magic; it is a rare find.

Once, in the mountains near Banff, Canada, I was hiking between vast columns of stone thrust up on either side of me. I happened to look up, and there, caught on the summit, was the alpenglow. Only this time, it flushed in pale pink and rose.

It would fade quickly, but while it lasted, it held me in its soft beauty.

And this past week, out on Highway 61, the flaming coal colors of sunset, afire above the Porcupine Mountains. Anyone knows that it is moments to linger, to enjoy and savor.

But I was reminded of the Ross Lights and the possibility they might one day find me again.

Hesitantly, I turned around, and there, in the birch forest, were the pale and familiar red wine colors I had christened with this uncommon name. Caught on the paper birch, these lights transformed the world with rouge, and even the snow held shades of rose. Deer tracks were made watercolored in its delicate shadow.

The Ross Lights remind me there are surprises to be found in a world that often intoxicates us with its action and speed, its glitter, and gold.

These, to be sure, are worthwhile and account for much of the salsa in life.

But there are also rarer experiences, embedded in these same opportunities where we witness fireworks. We can also discover another dimension, just as real, with a charm all its own, once we are aware.

For example, any parents know the haste and chaos of raising children. We can be exhausted, made even more pertinent by those who say, "Enjoy this. It may be the best time in your life."

But rarely do we think to turn around. There, in the after side of life, are the soft colors of childhood. Every step of their journey blesses us. Such thoughts are rare and may last only a short time.

But, because they are so fleeting and real, they stay alive in our memory. We look back at them as we look forward - for the Ross Light to once again appear.

Another example? We travel and go on vacation and seek out the fast and fun, the novelty and adventure.

All this is important in a raging culture that depletes our appreciation of life.

But, if one day we suspect the Ross Light is to our backs, we might turn around to discover the soft pale rose of reflection and personal meaning.

It might lead us to moments where thinking stops and where breathing along with the world, takes place. We slow down. We see a different reality painted on the same canvas.

Ross Lights require us to take our affection for the fireworks of a western sky, to make the conscious decision to turn to what is behind us. Most times, it is grey and sodden with shadow.

But there is this possibility; we might catch magic.

We might remain captivated by wild displays of gold on unsuspecting branches. But for minutes, we might also discover in wary and understated places, the quieter blush of wild roses.

These encounters, too, are ours to discover on rare evenings headed into an array of stars. They will soon rise above the trees, but, for now, they await their turn suspended in magic.

John A. Bragstad is the author of two books - Compass Season and The Poetry of Life: Who's Watching Who? Both are available on Amazon.