By Sarah Hatfield, Education Coordinator

In hindsight, I don’t actually remember the last time that my jaw literally hung open in awe. I forgot what it feels like to be so incredulous that you start to almost hum with excitement. The eclipse recently came close to producing that feeling, but not quite. Standing under a dark sky in my driveway in northwestern Pennsylvania and watching a black sky turn magenta, then having green ribbons of light flutter across the sky, did.

I have gone out on the ‘aurora’ nights before, when the Northern Lights were supposed to dip low enough for us to see them. Because Jamestown lies to the north, it never got dark enough to see them. My expectations were low, even though my mom texted that if I went out at 10:19 I could see the space station and the Northern Lights. Given that I usually don’t stay up that late, I willed myself to read until 10:15, but was just about to turn off the light because I had low expectations and was really quite tired. And then I got a text from a friend saying that the northern lights were visible. So I padded downstairs in a bathrobe and bare feet. Wandering through the dark house, trying to not ruin any night vision, I walked out into the driveway and looked at the sky. Nothing.

I waited a minute for my eyes to adjust. Nothing. I walked out to the middle of the driveway and looked north. Still nothing. Disappointed, but not really, I looked west at the last bit of sunset glow. And then I noticed that the sky seemed purple… and then it turned magenta, and hit fuchsia, and with every color change my mouth opened wider until I was staring at a neon sky in disbelief. When the ribbons of green appeared and disappeared I may have actually said ‘no way!’ out loud to myself, and jumped up and down a little.  

Standing outside, shivering with both cold and amazement, it was truly an otherworldly experience. You’ve seen the photos, I’m sure, and possibly the videos, but it doesn’t compare to the reality of having the sky literally dance above you and blur the line of earth and sky. The next day social media was buzzing with so many of the same photos — it was a collective moment of awe and wonder. Similar to the eclipse, but different.

Northern Lights above Russell, PA. Photo by Sarah Hatfield.

The phones picked up more color, but my eye saw them all, they were so brilliant. And since then I’ve been thinking about that feeling. When I look at the photos, I can put myself back there, with that quivering feeling, and relive it.

Awe can be commonplace or rare. It is related to our experiences, how often we’ve experienced something, and how we allow ourselves to experience it. Those that know me would be surprised at such a gleeful show of emotion as I exhibited that night. It would certainly be out of character. I wonder if the depth of that feeling could only have arisen from something as extraordinary as that. I get excited to see the first warbler of year, but not jump and down excited. I exclaimed amazement at a Downy Woodpecker drinking out of a hummingbird feeder just the other day, but not out loud to the world.

Was the feeling of seeing the aurora that night a combination of a rarity and something that is on a subconscious bucket list? Something I know about, but don’t count on ever seeing, and then get to see unexpectedly in grand form? That hits closer to the spark of the reaction.

I was recently talking to my mom on the phone and she was relaying the trip her friend took to the Galapagos, saying that it sounded kind of boring. Which, by ‘vacation’ standards, it probably was. But having the knowledge of the ecological concepts that were born there, knowing the idea that the place itself created, that’s what makes it exciting. It is the chance to step into history that shaped understanding, the opportunity to see a place and its residents that made people, once upon a time, wonder.

And that wonder still exists there, and everywhere. It is there is almost every moment, but hard to reach sometimes with the daily grind of life. From that wonder comes curiosity and investigation, which leads to more wonder. Is it possible to find wonder daily? Yes. Do I have the energy to seek it out daily? Nope. Am I grateful for the moments that force wonder into my life? Absolutely. Because I forgot what it felt like. That moment when then world takes your breath away and makes you feel so small yet so alive all at the same time.

You don’t have to seek out those moments, but leave yourself open to them, so that when you need them the most, they can find you, ripple their way deep into your mind and heart and open you to the wonder that lies all around.

Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails and outdoor facilities are open from dawn to dusk. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at or by calling (716) 569-2345.

Sarah Hatfield is Education Coordinator at ACNC.