Events in Light and Color

Some saw wonders, others the portents of doom.

This week marks the anniversary of the 1859 Carrington Event, the largest geomagnetic storm on record, which resulted from a shock wave of solar wind interacting with Earth’s magnetic field. Apparently, there are holes in the sun, and these can work like wind tunnels. A cloud of plasma resulting from a solar flare can reach the earth in a few days.

The event started fires, disrupted telegraph systems, delivered electric shocks to the operators. Rocky Mountain gold miners began making breakfast in the middle of the night, thinking it was morning. The light was bright enough to read by, and it was described in one paper as something of indescribable softness which covered the whole firmament . . . like a luminous cloud. 

A miner witnessed lights of every imaginable color. As each one faded, he recalled, the next to emerge would be more beautiful than the last. Northern light auroras were seen as far south as Mexico, Cuba ––even Colombia. Some saw wonders, others a portent of coming doom.

Later that year, abolitionist John Brown raided Harper’s Ferry. He was soon captured by the soon-to-be Confederate general Robert E. Lee and executed for inciting a slave rebellion. Later that year, Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species. Later that year, hundreds died in a steamship wreck on the coast of Wales. 

Also, John Dewey was born, and painter Georges Seurat, and artist Paul César Helleu, whose idea it was to install a ceiling mural of night sky constellations in New York’s Grand Central Terminal. So was LL Zamenhof, who conceived of the international language, Esperanto, as a pathway to the end of nations and the oppressions they spawned. He was called the Doctor of Hope.

It is said, of Georges Seurat, that he was moved by an idea that laws of visual harmony might be learned as one learns harmony in music. He was only thirty-one when he died, and his son died soon after. Before this, they say that he was constantly moved to imagine and reimagine the symbolism of lines on a canvas, the language of color and light.

Author: Stacey C. Johnson

I am here to wonder out loud. The point is not to get a clear answer, a complete picture, but to remember how incomplete the picture is, to embrace the process once again, of discovery, of questions, to notice the stirrings of wonder. To leave crumbs behind, for the next traveler.

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