I’ve learned a lot in my visit to Yellowknife, capital of the Northwest Territories and home to two-thirds of its people. For instance, I’ve learned that the the Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights, are a result of solar wind disturbing the Earth’s magnetosphere. Charged particles are precipitated into the earth’s upper atmosphere where they collide with atoms and molecules, giving off energy, which we see in the form of light – often as a green glow.
But I could have read that in a book. So what I’m going to do is talk about the things I couldn’t have read in a book. Or wouldn’t have understood if I did.
For instance, how the Aurora looks like a thing alive as it ripples across the sky. Constantly changing texture, shape, size. You can look until your eyes bleed and it’s never enough; you cannot capture it. The Yellowknife Dene have a legend about the aurora – how the lights are lamps held by departed souls to guide the journey of the dead to heaven.
It’s a beautiful story, but it’s not mine, so I can make my own. I can imagine, as I gaze at the sky, that the aurora is an entity, an alien intelligence. The northern lights as alien entities! I wonder if that’s been done before?
Here, 400 kilometers below the Arctic circle (which is as far north as my sub-tropical heart ever wants to get), March is still winter. But the days are getting longer, sunnier, and the evenings seem to last forever, light lingering long after the sun has set in an indigo bruise on the horizon. (Excuse the purple prose, can’t help it.) The many lakes are still frozen and it is here, walking on the ice, that I learn something else.
I learn that it is very relaxing to lie spreadeagled on a frozen lake, on top of a foot of packed snow, the sub-Arctic sun on your face. It is just as relaxing as lying on soft heather in fact (Bell Island, NL, comes to mind). The cold slowly seeps upward through your body while the sun warms your face and your mind empties. It is still and quiet – apart from the occasional bird call. You truly do not wish to move, even as your back freezes. It is a moment of peace, something precious to hold onto before you make your way back to the city.