First bona fide dream – Aurora Borealis and lessons in geography, #Books, #Nostalgia

Alaska. The icy world is where my first dream is set. That word made me start looking at Atlas and maps and learn about the geography and to dream of faraway places. We felt closer to heaven than America at that point in time.

I just turned 11 and we were on a holiday in Vijayawada at my mother’s sister’s house. Vijayawada then and now is a huge city with lot of opportunities for the small town bumpkin. Coming to the point, my cousin had a copy of readers digest. It was just that year that I had started reading news paper and magazines in English. We would occasionally get the Hindu news paper and I was just getting the hang of reading.

When I laid my hands on the copy of Readers digest, I never knew that it would start me on a lifelong obsession with Alaska. In that tiny book, there was a story of two people who were stranded on a cold night in some remote part of Alaska. Their plane breaks down on a cold winter night on a mountain.  I do not remember much about the story now, but the one thing that is still vivid in my mind, is the description of Northern lights that they witness that night. The experience that stayed with me was how they felt closer to God that night witnessing the Auroa Borealis. The awe at the magnificent creation of God. I could not even remotely comprehend the cold, forget about the lights. We did not even own a fridge then. The coldest we knew  was half melted ice cream or stick ice that was sold in summers by vendors on cycle.

Now, this is before the age of Internet and Computers. We did not even own a Television then. It was a rarity even in the cities of India in eighties. Maps, Globes and Atlas were also not every day things. I do not even remember seeing a Globe at that age. World Map was a vague thing we knew which was hung in a library, which was visited once a month. I did not even know that there was a place called Alaska. I do not remember now if I knew that it was even a part of the USA. USA then was America, and kids would point in the sky if you asked where it was because you had to fly to get there.

My first task was to find Alaska, where it was in the map. Comprehend what Northern Lights were was something else. How would they appear in the sky? In fact, at that time, I did not know anything or even remotely understand about what was written in the article other than the fact that two people were stranded in a cold place, and they saw something, that made them believe in God.

Seeing Northern Lights in Alaska thus became my first dream. I do not remember how I dreamed about something, I had no clue about. I did not have any visual to dream, any picture of places that resemble the place or the phenomenon of Northern Lights. The visual was the printed story that was imprint on my mind. In fact even today, it is still that pages of Readers Digest that comes to mind before the actual image. It was only years later, in another chance encountering of the National Geographic, where I could see the pictures of Alaska and Aurora Borealis. And that became the anchor for the dream. So I dreamt for a full 5 years before having a visual of what I was dreaming about.

It was the quest to know about Alaska and the northern lights that made me devour the news paper every day in the hope that something would be written about it. When I first laid my hands on a good Atlas, couple of years later, I would spend hours looking at the maps. In fact I was so obsessed with them, that my cousin reminded me later how when he had some question on geography, I first asked him to list all the countries in the path from India to USA in a clock wise manner. I would look at the variations in temperature and wonder how people coped with different climates.

I am still fascinated by that place. Though the trip is still pending, it is more reachable now. In a way I am glad I did not get to see it yet. Because I still get fascinated by anything related to Alaska. I have been told that my eyes light up at the name. The books, the TV programs, reading about the gold rush, the Iditarod race, the Alaskan railway etc etc, my fascination with the ice country is endless. My quest to see the lights continues and so does my fascination with Alaska. Recently read James Michener’s Alaska – a 1000 page treatise within a week. Understanding how Alaska was sold off by Russia to the US and how it emerged slowly as the economic power it is today is fascinating.

Coming back, I did not know at that time the profound influence it would have on me. I had learnt to appreciate maps and the even read more about the science behind it – Cartography. My only regret about the whole experience was that, I did not save the copy of the reader’s digest. I wish I did.  I do, in my mind’s eye see the printed word, the pages, the smells and sounds that defined the experience of learning and dreaming of the wonderful snowy world of Alaska.

Please share your dreams here, dreams that have defined you, and together we can believe in them to make them happen.

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