To see hot air balloons glowing in the distance promises a night of pure magic.
There is something primeval about a hot air balloon at night.
Maybe it’s the roaring flames as they shoot up from the burner with a sudden and unexpected flash of heat and light. Or maybe it is simply the darkness itself, the uncertainty and mystery of what might exist beyond our sight. Of course, it may be the balloons themselves, amorphous dream creatures that slowly take form and rise up to hang above us as if waiting for the perfect moment to pounce.
Whatever it is, there it feels as if an ancient rite is underway when I arrive at the Hudson Hot Air Affair’s Moonglow event.
Some balloons already reach for the sky, luminous creatures tugging at the lines that bind them to the ground below.
Others are still rising from the ground, their colorful bulk slowly crowding out the remaining bits of sky as they rise to their full height.
As more balloons fill the sky and more visitors crowd the yard below, the atmosphere morphs.
The age-old rituals of the night are replaced by the antics of a carnival midway: The brilliant colors of the balloons like so many gaudy mid-way tents; the sudden light and heat of a burner like the unexpected light and motion of a carnival ride suddenly swooping toward you and then away into the darkness again; even the carnival barker is here, calling out the countdown for the pilots to fire their burners. Step right up, folks, it’s the greatest show on earth!
Too soon it is all over.
The balloons begin to shiver and deflate, a Surrealist painting in motion as the colorful giants slowly melt back into the ground.
If we are lucky, we’ll have a chance to experience it all over again next year.
The Hudson Hot Air Affair is held each winter in Hudson, Wisconsin. The evening “Moonglow” event is an opportunity to see the inflated balloons lit by their burners. The balloons are tethered to the ground, so visitors can walk around and below them.
All of the ballooning events are highly weather dependent. For example, while “Moonglow” scheduled every year, some years the weather doesn’t allow even this limited use of the balloons. In that case pilots simply bring the burners out and the event becomes “Field of Fire.”
For more information on watching them light up the balloons for a Moonglow or seeing them launch, see my post winter magic for all at the Hudson Hot Air Affair.