Six turkey vultures soar back and forth above me along the Red River. They cross each other’s paths, circling in wide arcs, apparently in search of food refuse or prey.

The sun begins to settle lower and lower in the west. It is bringing to an end a very hot September day, as if in penance for a very cool summer.

A raccoon humps his way across my line of vision off to my right, headed for the river. He is a nocturnal animal; he heralds the approaching night. He disappears from my view behind a clump of young hackberry trees. What will he discover for food along the river?

To my surprise on my right, I discover a huge crabapple tree bearing a lot of fruit. Is it a leftover from someone’s stray planting? And has the raccoon possibly discovered it, too?

The remaining light of the early night outlines a big mountain ash to my right. The remainder of the day gives way only grudgingly.

Some friends discovered the northern lights the other night across Ham Lake — the aurora borealis. They even took photos of it, and it was quite a treat to see. I went out after midnight the next night to see if I could see them, but I had no such luck.

These experiences of the night sky cannot be manufactured, of course. We simply experience them and are fortunate enough to be there when they happen.

I recall many years ago standing with my brother after midnight in an open field in central North Dakota. We were just talking together and walking.

Suddenly we realized that the black, moonless sky was lighting up from horizon to horizon with what folks called heat lightning. It was soundless.

We stood there without talking, gazing at it for a long time, in a kind of reverent awe. It was almost as if the light was whispering from one horizon to light on another horizon.

I suppose these experiences leave one spellbound because so many circumstances conspire to enable us to partake of them: they happened to occur during those moments; one happens to be there during those moments to experience them; one might easily go to one’s  grave without ever in one lifetime experiencing them.

The night sky has darkened now to the point that it has erased the outline of the mountain ash. What remains now is for the night sky to begin twinkling its first stars. Now it is time for raccoon to come out and begin his rascal activity of marauding, and for the night to come alive with all its night creatures.

James Alger, who lives in Fargo, N.D., has been a summer resident of the Leech Lake area with his family for over 45 years. Over that time he has grown to love and appreciate the people and the woodlands of this area.


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