For some revelers, nature springs for the fireworks

Ushering in the new year with the aurora from a cabin in the wilderness is a unique experience

Posted: Sunday, January 04, 2004

Fireworks helped many revelers around the country ring in 2004 early Thursday morning. But for some Juneau residents, the sky lit up in a much quieter way.

"Both times that we've gone we've seen the northern lights over the Chilkoot," said Kelly Manning, who has celebrated New Year's twice with her boyfriend, Jeff Williams, at the Blue Mussel cabin in Point Bridget State Park.

"We sat and blew out all the candles and watched the sky," she said.

It's not as social an experience as, say, toasting the new year at a downtown bar or at a party with friends. But a night of roughing it in a cabin with no electricity or running water can set a peaceful tone for the coming year.

"Rather than being like a big forget-half-the-night kind of thing, it's just a special thing that you share and bring in the new year in a calm way," Manning said. "You're just happy when the new year comes."

According to Mike Levine, who spent the evening in the Cowee Meadows cabin, the northern lights came out about five minutes before midnight and faded about five minutes into the new year. The cabin also is in Point Bridget State Park.

He and three friends were on the porch of the Cowee Meadows cabin, opening a bottle of champagne and toasting to a good year and good friends, he said.

"Then we ran back inside because it was really, really cold," he said.

Like Manning, Levine found a night in the wild to be a more appropriate way to bring in the new year.

"I think New Year's in particular is a time of renewal," he said. "... It's a reflective time, and to be out away from everything, you get a chance to reflect on what's important."

Sergei Morosan and Elizabeth Kent, who spent New Year's Eve at the Peterson Lake cabin, didn't pack a watch so they didn't even know when the new year hit. But they too were outside for the aurora borealis.

"We went outside and walked around on the lake," Morosan said. "There were stars galore and the northern lights came out, I don't know when but it must have been late because it was after the moon set."

Unlike Manning and Williams, who dined on what Manning called "standard cabin fare," Morosan and Kent packed a special meal for the new year. It included sushi, smoked salmon, home-brewed beer and wine. Levine and his friends also dined on smoked salmon, as well as pasta, chocolate and cookies.

The U.S. Forest Service operates five cabins accessible from the Juneau road system, all of which are popular on weekends and holidays throughout the year, said Fran Martin, who works with special use permits for the agency.

The Blue Mussel and Cowee Meadow cabins can be rented up to six months in advance through the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, said administrative assistant Sheila Good.

"Most people book them up almost exactly six months to the date of most of the major holidays," she said.

Levine booked the Cowee Meadow cabin two months before New Year's Eve. It was one of the last available cabins in the Juneau area, he said.

• Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.



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