Chasing Light

James Hetfield’s opening lyric in the Metallica song “Chasing Light” is “There’s no light.” That sums up last Thursday night.

The good news is there are great people on Grays Harbor, which lessened the sting of not seeing the lights.

What’s the big deal with the lights?

The Northern Lights — or aurora borealis — are a glowing display that appears green, red, blue or purple in the night sky, according to Smithsonian Magazine. The light show was supposed to be visible from Washington state on Thursday. That was the prime night, according to reports.

Despite online reports my colleague and buddy Clayton saw throughout the week that contradicted with my hope of seeing aurora borealis Thursday night, we forged on in my 2007 Honda Accord. I was eager to get a photo of the natural phenomenon. I had heard and read enough about it. To see it in Washington state would be rare. My boss Michael Wagar said he’d run a photo of it in this Tuesday’s paper if I could capture it. So, I had to try.

While we didn’t get to see, or photograph the light show, we still enjoyed our night. That’s the point of this particular column. Plans don’t always work out, so you have to make the best of them.

First, we — a born and raised Illinoisan and Montanan, respectively — tried to figure out where the best place was to see the lights. The ocean seemed like a good idea, but as a few Washingtonians pointed out, the Pacific Ocean’s marine layer would probably have prevented us from seeing the phenomenon.

Clayton thought altitude might do the trick. With our phones in hand we looked at the various hills around the area using Google’s topography map. Aberdeen, no, we were looking to go farther. Montesano? Maybe, but we’d have to hike and I didn’t care for that with it being late at night. Elma? Possibly.

My vote was for Elma or McCleary. Clayton didn’t think Elma would have the high ground we needed.

Ryan Rowe, co-owner of GH Wine Sellars, was one of the people who told me to stay clear of the ocean because of the expected marine layer. He said one year in Chehalis, the Northern Lights gave him the best light show he’d ever seen. His tip was to go inland, or at least somewhat away from the ocean. His other tip was to look north because you can’t miss it.

With those tips in mind, we still stayed close to home. Clayton wasn’t too keen on the drive to Elma because the reports he had seen online had him question if we’d actually end up seeing anything. He was also unsure about the chance of seeing the lights in Montesano. So we thought of hills in Aberdeen.

Another voice, our friend and the paper’s Editorial Assistant Karen Barkstrom, recommended Fern Hill Cemetery. While it seemed it could be a good place to watch the lights, I wasn’t really in the mood to spend four hours late at night in a cemetery just for a small chance at a cool light show.

So, we settled on the hill in Aberdeen, near Bel-Aire Avenue. We thought it’s high up and it’s dark. Based on what we expected to be a slight chance of seeing the lights, staying in Aberdeen seemed to be the best choice. It would save us a longer drive, and gas. Besides, Clayton had a Zoom meeting to attend Friday.

We pulled up to that hilly road and parked on the shoulder of a nice lookout. Clayton pulled out his camping chair and we each pulled out a couple beers — his were 10 Barrel Brewing Company’s “Pub Beer,” and mine were Rainier. Note, we only had a couple beers for the duration of our stargazing.

I tried to take photos of the sky, both with my iPhone 13 and with a Nikon DSLR camera, but couldn’t get anything out of either. Well, except one squinty-eyed and slightly irritated photo of Clayton because the flash was on in the otherwise dark night. Think of those naps in high school biology class. Once the teacher turns the lab lights back on, every student scorns the light.

Despite being deprived of a great light show, we did enjoy ourselves. We listened to music and we looked up at the clear field of stars that stretched out over North Aberdeen.

We compared our lists of favorite Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin songs. His No. 1 Rolling Stones’ song? “Shattered.” Mine? “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Without “exposing” too much, his word, I’ll just share my favorite Led Zeppelin song: “Ramble On.”

Beside music, we talked about sports, our futures and gabbed about other relatable subjects.

At 1:33 a.m., on Friday, with no glimmer of the Northern Lights, we ended our short pursuit. He was cold and I was tired.

It’s nights like those, when nothing else works, at least there’s a friend nearby who’s willing to listen. Luckily, Grays Harbor’s got a fair share of the good ones.

Contact Reporter Matthew N. Wells at