“It’s pretty, but I want to watch cartoons,” Freddy complained to his dad who was trying to point out the ghostly greens and blues of the aurora borealis to his six-year-old son. “When are we going to be able to watch TV again? When will the computer work? I’m bored of going to bed so early. Can’t we keep the candles lit?”
Malcom understood the nightly ritual of his son asking these questions, but after five weeks it wore on him and his wife. It was tough for their son to understand how the largest CME, coronal mass ejection, in recorded history had unleashed geomagnetic storms that blew out a third of the world’s electrical transformers.
Nearly two hundred million people in the United States and over two billion worldwide were still without power. The grid was seriously compromised and it was going to be a long time before things returned to normal—if they ever did. The sun continued to roil and storm, interfering with all manner of electronics, especially communications, and global efforts to rebuild fractured networks.
There was no denying the haunting beauty of the nightly display of highly charged particles arcing through earth’s upper atmosphere at the poles. Malcom had never experienced the Northern Lights before and would never have expected to see it in northern California. But, he’d trade its splendor in a flash to have the electricity back on, even for a few hours a day.
He had to admit that they were luckier than most. Living in Crescent City on the far northern Californian coast provided them access to fresh seafood and firewood. However, it was getting tougher as folks began migrating their way. Pressures were building on the available food supply and sources for heat. People were starting to talk about felling the protected coast redwoods in the state parks. Everywhere people were grumbling and beginning to shift from the open-arms help of the initial weeks of the emergency to a withdrawn, suspicious and outright selfish stance.
Consideration of long-term survival was making everyone wary and turning some criminal. And despite this, most folks still gathered in the dusk to watch the aurora borealis dance far into California and beyond. Then most would return to their dimly lit homes to tune in on portable radios to what he and his neighbors had begun calling the sun-cast: the nightly update on the mammoth CMEs and how the hyperactive solar flares were holding the world hostage.
It was one of the reasons that most folks gathered nightly to watch the Northern Lights. They were waiting for them to dissipate. That would be a good sign. A sign that the sun was calming down and their local lights might have a chance to come back on soon.
Malcom was becoming discouraged by the sun-cast because it didn’t seem to be changing, and repairs to the national grid, let alone the local, made little progress. Freddy grew more and more whiny and his wife, Heather, looked more disconsolate each evening.
What was going to fix this? Malcom, deep in thought, led his son and wife back to their dark house. He lit a single candle and began cranking their emergency radio to give it enough charge to listen to the evening update.
The static was heavier than usual. Not a good sign. And the crackly news was worse. Scientists studying the CMEs had come to the conclusion that this was the beginning of an extended period of volatile solar activity that could last many years. This would slow progress of bringing communities back online because new shielding technologies would have to be developed. The outlook: gloomy with a chance of doom.
Malcom switched off the sun-cast. He was done waiting for a better day. He took Heather in one hand and Freddy in the other. He led them outside where they stood under the clear endless sky. To the north, it was lit in phosphorescent bands. Their new and beautiful reality. Directly overhead and to the south, the stars blazed without number. No light pollution blocked their glory.
It was time to revel in this glory and start from here. His son might miss his television and computer. His wife might be saddened by a future she thought was theirs. But, Malcom was busy making his own forecast. The sun would shine, the earth would turn and he would help them adapt. All of them.
Together, humanity could weather this storm. Like the ethereal bands of glorious color cast high above his family, he knew a brighter future was always possible. If they stayed tuned in.