"Tent Life in Siberia"

"On the 26th of February [1866].... there occurred one of the grandest display of the Arctic Aurora which had been observed there for more than fifty years, and which exhibited such unusual and extraordinary brilliancy that even the natives were astonished. ... Late in the evening .... there burst suddenly upon our startled eyes the grandest exhibition of vivid dazzling light and color of which the mind can conceive. The whole universe seemed to be on fire. A broad arch of brilliant prismatic colors spanned the heavens from east to west like a gigantic rainbow, with a long fringe of crimson and yellow streamers stretching up from its convex edge to the very zenith. At short intervals of one or two seconds, wide, luminous bands, parallel with the arch, rose suddenly out of the northern horizon and swept with a swift, steady majesty across the whole heavens, like long breakers of phosphorescent light rolling in from some limitless ocean of space.

"Every portion of the vast arch was momentarily wavering, trembling, and changing color, and the brilliant streamers which fringed its edge swept back and forth in great curves, like the fiery sword of the angel at the gate of Eden. In a moment the vast auroral rainbow, with all its wavering streamers, began to move slowly up toward the zenith, and a second arch of equal brilliancy formed directly under it, shooting up another long serried row of slender colored lances toward the North Star, like a battalion of the celestial host presenting arms to its commanding angel. Every instant the display increased in unearthly grandeur. The luminous bands revolved swiftly, like the spokes of a great wheel of light across the heavens; the streamers hurried back and forth with swift, tremulous motion from the ends of the arches to the center, and now and then a great wave of crimson would surge up from the north and fairly deluge the whole sky with color, tinging the white snowy earth far and wide with its rosy reflection. But as the words of the prophecy, "And the heavens shall be turned to blood," formed themselves upon my lips, the crimson suddenly vanished, and a lightning flash of vivid orange startled us with its wide, all-pervading glare, which extended even to the southern horizon, as if the whole volume of the atmosphere had suddenly taken fire. I even held my breath a moment, as I listened for the tremendous crash of thunder which it seemed to me must follow this sudden burst of vivid light; but in heaven or earth there was not a sound to break the calm silence of night, save the hastily-muttered prayers of the frightened native at my side, as he crossed himself and kneeled down before the visible majesty of God. I could not imagine any possible addition which even Almighty power could make to the grandeur of the Aurora as it now appeared. The rapid alternations of crimson, blue, green, and yellow in the sky were reflected so vividly from the white surface of the snow, that the whole world seemed now steeped in blood, and then quivering in an atmosphere of pale, ghastly green, through which shone the unspeakable glories of the mighty crimson and yellow arches.

"But the end was not yet. As we watched with upturned faces the swift ebb and flow of these great celestial tides of colored light, the last seal of the glorious revelation was suddenly broken, and both arches were simultaneously shivered into a thousand parallel perpendicular bars, every one of which displayed in regular order, from top to bottom, the seven primary colors of the solar spectrum. From horizon to horizon there now stretched two vast curving bridges of colored bars, across which we almost expected to see, passing and repassing, the bright inhabitants of another world. Amid cries of astonishment and exclamations of 'God have mercy!' from the startled natives, these innumerable bars began to move, with a swift dancing motion, back and forth along the whole extent of both arches, passing each other from side to side with such bewildering rapidly, that the eye was lost in the attempt to follow them. The whole concave of heaven seemed transformed into one great revolving kaleidoscope of shattered rainbows. Never had I even dreamed of such an aurora as this, and I am not ashamed to confess that its magnificence at that moment overawed and frightened me. The whole sky, from zenith to horizon, was 'one molten, mantling sea of color and fire, crimson and purple, and scarlet and green, and colors for which there are no words in language and no idea in the mind,—things which can only be conceived while they are visible.' The 'signs and portents' in the heavens were grand enough to herald the destruction of a world: flashes of rich quivering color, covering half the sky for an instant and then vanishing like summer lightning; brilliant green streamers shooting swiftly but silently up across the zenith; thousands of variegated bars sweeping past each other in two magnificent arches, and great luminous waves rolling in from the inter-planetary spaces and breaking in long lines of radiant glory upon the shallow atmosphere of a darkened world.

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May 11, 1907

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