It's easy to end up exhausted and frustrated when farm chores keep us outside until well after dark. But sometimes these late nights lead to memorable moments.
Tonight after chores, I wasn't nearly as tired as usual thanks to an early Mother's Day gift: a two-hour nap with no interruptions. So as I headed to the house, I kept going past our front steps and went out to the road. At the time, I had no idea why I felt an urge to go for a walk. I realize now that perhaps I was being led.
I crossed the paved county road and strolled down the gravel road across from our driveway. I walked for a couple hundred yards before my common sense caught up with me. It was late; Glen had no idea that I was going for a walk; and all I had with me was my cell phone. I turned around to head back. When I did, I was stopped by what I saw.
Flickering across the northern sky were the bright green lights of the aurora borealis. Growing up in northern Minnesota, the northern lights were a fairly common sight for country kids still outside after dark. When I was little, my dad would come get my sisters and me from the house so we could watch the spectacular dancing lights.
Science explains the northern lights as the result of collisions between atmospheric particles. But there are lots of legends about why they exist, too. My favorite legend is that the northern lights are the spirits of loved ones who have gone before us, greeting us from the afterworld.
This was the first time I'd seen the northern lights here in Stearns County, possibly because we have a bright yard light or possibly because I haven't been paying attention. I stood there in the silence of the night, watching the band of lights that stretched across the dark sky, as a memory washed over me.
The last time I had watched the northern lights was a late night in May, over ten years ago. The lights that night inspired the start of a column that was never published:

May 15, 2005
With seasonal dairy farming, spring means lots of calves. And lots of calves mean lots of late nights. Especially with the three-times-a-day milking schedule we're trying for the beginning of the lactation. Last night as I was finishing up chores, I happened to look up. Above were the most glorious northern lights. I'd seen a similar show once before, at camp last summer. At the time we were awed silent by the magnificence and beauty of the northern lights flickering and dancing across the sky like the spirits of our forefathers. The northern lights last night were no less glorious.
I stood for a second, fixing my weary eyes on the dancing lights and marveling at their mystery. They were a much-needed reward after a long day of farming and a frustrating night of finishing up alone. I reflected on my situation and the merging of opportunities that allowed me to be where I was at that particular moment. I thanked God for the beautiful reminder that everything happens according to plan: on this, the day my baby should have been born, I stood celebrating the birth of two beautiful calves, my return to the farm with my loving husband, and the generosity of my father in allowing us to give dairy farming a try. Had our baby been born, I am almost certain that we would not have started dairy farming when we did - or if at all. I thanked God for the reminder, too, that my baby was safe in heaven with my grandmothers. It was an overwhelmingly emotional moment. But my need to get some sleep pulled me from my reflecting and on to finish my chores.

Mother's Day had been the weekend before. But Mother's Day isn't a joyful holiday for those struggling with pregnancy loss. For the most part, the long hours and hard work of starting out dairy farming had kept my mind off the fact that my heart had embraced motherhood, but my arms had no baby to hold. But for that short moment, watching those beautiful lights, I allowed those thoughts to live.
I pulled myself from the memory and knew what I needed to do. I ran back to the house and got the kids. Dan and Daphne were still awake. Monika had fallen asleep on the couch. I woke Monika and told the kids to come see the northern lights. Glen carried Daphne as we hurried back down the gravel road.
I answered the kids' questions about the wispy lights and told them stories about the lights from my childhood. It was 10 minutes of togetherness that I will remember forever, all because my chores kept me up late, I didn't get my kids to bed on time, and I allowed myself to follow a whim.
As I stood there with my family, watching the dancing green lights, a feeling came over me that all is right in my world. It was the best Mother's Day gift ever.