Unearthly Lights

northern lights
By Theodor Kittelsen (1857 – 1914) (Fra Lofoten 1891) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Excerpt from More Than Moonshine written by Sidney Saylor Farr

“In addition to drying and canning apples, Father also made sulfured apples; I shall always remember the first year he did them. It had been a sticky hot day in August with clouds that moved sluggishly and looked like great wads of used chewing gum. Father brought in some barrels and boxes of sulfur from the store. Mother, my sister Della Mae, and I were set to peeling and cutting the apples for him. Father put the barrels in the smokehouse which was empty at that time of the year. The smell of burning sulfur drifted out and the evening air carried it all through the house and yard.

Along about dusky-dark a bad storm came up, with lightning and rolling thunder bouncing from the mountain tops. The storm struck the orchard. Some apple trees were uprooted, others had limbs broken off, and apples, even green ones, blanketed the ground under the remaining trees. We went to bed with the smell of the rain-wet earth and the sulfur from the smokehouse still around us.

Later in the night Father called us from the front porch and we all tumbled out of bed. I thought that daylight had come until I saw how strange it looked outside. Lights-first yellow then blue and red, moved over the hills. Father said it might be the end of the world and Mother leaned against the porch railing praying out loud. After awhile the lights died down and it was dark again. I learned that the strange phenomenon was called the aurora borealis, but people on Stoney Fork spoke of the “Northern Lights” for years. That was the only time I ever saw the aurora borealis in our part of the country. The thunder and lightning, the smell of the sulfured apples, followed by the unearthly lights, all made an impression that will always linger in the recesses of my mind.”


I first read Farr’s account of the aurora borealis several years ago. The story stuck with me. Thinking of the family working together through the stifling heat to provide food for themselves, enduring the raging storm, and then experiencing an unearthly event that frightened them into thinking the end of time had come really struck a chord with me.

I’ve heard folks talk about the end of time ever since I can remember. Just last week a lady about my age told The Deer Hunter she thought the eclipse might be the the end of time and if it was, it was okay by her!

Although the end of time talk and the praying aloud are certainly part of my upbringing and familiar to me, I believe the picture Farr drew with her words of a close knit family is why I’m so drawn to the piece. I was beyond blessed to grow up in a loving close knit family that shared almost every experience together whether it be frighting, mundane, or wondrous and I’ve tried my dead level best to provide the same sort of home for my daughters.



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  • Reply
    August 22, 2017 at 8:38 pm

    Growing up just south of Lake Erie in northwestern PA, the Northern Lights were pretty common when I was growing up. But I remember our Mother telling me a story about her walking home from work after dark the first time she saw them, and she ran home crying thinking it was the end of the world until it was explained to her.
    Back then, of course, we were told it was sunlight reflecting off the snows of the artics. Nowadays we know that’s not true at all, but to me, it’s beautiful and magical whatever its cause is, and a sight to cherish should we be lucky enough to catch it.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    August 22, 2017 at 8:02 pm

    I thought of the thousands that stopped what ever they were doing and looked up to see this strange event unfold across our nation, then I thought about the verse where it says ” every knee shall bow and “every” tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, didn’t leave a one out, all tho we see some things to me are the strangest I’ve ever seen going on in our nation, there are some things that never or will change.

  • Reply
    August 22, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    One time when Grandma came to visit (mama’s mama), she told about seeing a ball of fire rolling down the mountain near the Quarry and her folks going to see about it. Her husband seen it too, and got some men to see where it went, but they never found anything. Several of the neighbors saw this ball of fire also. Lots of wonders! …Ken

  • Reply
    August 22, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    I was struck by the colors of the lights the author described. I have read about “earthquake lights” which can appear before any kind of earthquake activity. They tend to be blue or yellow. The aurora borealis tends to be red and green. I wonder if there was an earthquake anywhere in the vicinity? Parts of KY lie on the New Madrid fault line. That would be interesting to know.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 22, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    Seeing the Northern Lights in Stoney Fork (Kentucky I assume) is not common but not unheard of either. Seeing the Northern Lights in August is not impossible but would be rare indeed. The aurora is best seen in late January thru early March but are sometimes seen as early as late September. The aurora is caused by the particles from the Sun hitting particles of gas in the atmosphere make them glow in different colors. Something like older color TV screens that have a picture tube. The activity of the Sun is constantly changing so events like the Northern Lights in August do happen and body should consider themselves lucky to have seen it.
    I don’t think the storm caused the Northern Lights to be visible when they were but it is possible the same forces that caused the Lights to be visible also caused the storm. Does that make any sense?

  • Reply
    Bob Hall
    August 22, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    In a recent blog you wrote about fruit flies. My solution is to apple cider in a small jar with a small hole in the lid. The flies are attracted to the cider and once inside they can’t find their way out and drowned. I first tried balsamic vinegar without success. Good luck.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 22, 2017 at 11:20 am

    I enjoyed reading your post today. I’ve read Sidney Saylor Farr’s book “More Than Moonshine”, in fact it is still in the cloud on my Kindle…such a good writer and story teller of things that were more than moonshine in our mountains.
    I always wanted to see the Northern lights! I too have heard stories of folks that lived in the mountains seeing the aurora borealis . When atmospheric conditions were suitable and it was announced by the weather people that one might be able to see the lights from here, I would get all excited! Of course, this was years ago when the pollution level was much lower. I would go out in the cold night and stare to the North until my eyes watered. I never did see them or any lights, except maybe blinking lights of a far off plane…One time when I was in junior high school, a teacher asked one morning if anyone saw the aurora borealis the night before? I began to think she made all that stuff up and just see how many kids would say they did, knowing that they didn’t! HA
    As for sulfured apples! Well, I prefer mine in the form of jelly or dried for stack cake, fried pies or cobbler. I can’t stand the smell of sulfur. I guess like eating pinto beans, it is best if all in the family participate as they are also gaseous!…ha
    Yes, to be a family everyone has to work together. If the ring of love breaks then there is danger of the family falling apart. However, it is expected for it to bend a little in ordinary living!
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS….Have you ever heard anyone say…”Look at that yeller sky, smells like sulfur, a bad storm is moving in!”
    My kin used to warn of yellow skies and the waft of sulfur in the air as a indicator of a severe wind and electrical storm!……just pondering!

  • Reply
    wayne smith
    August 22, 2017 at 8:24 am

    reminds me of my grandmother Dell Milner.
    thank you

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 22, 2017 at 8:15 am

    I expect your dead level best is very good. I can tell your girls have a firm foundation for life such that as time goes by they will appreciate it more and more, in part by encountering people who do not have it.
    I agree with the two doctors Minith and Myer (who used to have a radio spot) that relationships are what matter most in life.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    August 22, 2017 at 8:06 am

    It is such a shame how families have drifted apart. As a child I remember we did everything together. During the week it was just our family but come the weekend it was back to the farm to help with whatever needed done.
    If it was not pickin or canning time we all sat around with uncles and aunts and made music and sang.
    I learned to drive on a tractor pulling a hay wagon while my brother and cousins threw the hay bales on.
    Great memories like learning to shoot a rifle sitting on the back porch shooting apricots off a tree.
    I feel sorry for kids today who will never experience the back to earth and family that we did.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    August 22, 2017 at 7:56 am

    Wow, I can imagine thinking it wasthe end of days especially with the smell of sulfer hanging in the air.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 22, 2017 at 6:32 am

    Tip, I’d say you have succeeded in providing your family with the close loving atmosphere that you grew up with. I look at your family in wonder sometimes. I’ve never seem a family as close. I certainly did not grow up with that kind of closeness. I bless the day my son married you!
    As I looked at the eclipse yesterday, it was a total eclipse here, I wondered what we would think if it got dark in the middle of the day and we did not know it was a natural event. I’m sure we would think it was the end of the world. It was a spectacular thing to see!

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