The Dancing Lights

Photograph by Norbert Rosing, National Geographic

One of the items on my travel bucket list is to see the Northern Lights. Now, on that list I may have stated that I want to travel to the Canadian North to experience them, but at this point I’d be more than happy to scratch half an item off of my to-do’s (I will one day go to the North, no questions asked).

There are many things in my life that I’ve always had an unexplainable affinity for (New Orleans, the South Pacific, ancient Rome), and the Aurora Borealis has always been one of them. Being a resident of the Big Smoke hasn’t given me much of an opportunity to witness these dancing lights, let alone see more than a mere splattering of stars. Camping in Algonquin Park in the summer has given me a preview of what can actually be seen when there’s no light pollution, but again, it does no justice to what’s actually present in that big, black sky above our heads.

Along with the above-mentioned affinities, I have also always felt a sort of kinship and respect towards Native cultures. My grandmother gifted me a book when I was a child about Native history in North America and ever since then I was hooked. One of the biggest influences of Native culture that has had a great impact on me in my adult life is their histories of storytelling. Native Lit has become one of my favourite genres and I am very thankful for and inspired by the works of Sherman Alexie, Richard Van Camp, Joseph Boyden and Eden Robinson, just to name a few.

Why am I rambling on about the greatness of Native Lit and their oral histories, you might ask? Who do you think has been talking about the Aurora for eons?

Oral histories of the Aurora can be found amongst the Algonquin, Inuit, the Inupiat of North Alaska and other tribes spread out through the Arctic and Subarctic. Just as there are so many varying characteristics throughout these different tribes, there are also different myths about the Aurora Borealis. From creation stories…

“The demigod Nanahboozho created the world and human beings. After the creation was complete and people had received knowledge and experience in managing their environment, Nanahboozho passed on to his permanent abode in the North. But before he left mankind, he promised to look after them and follow their lives. As a sign of his protection he would from time to time light great flares whose reflection would be visitble to mankind in the skies.” — Aurora: The Northern Lights in Mythology, History and Science by Harald Falck-Ytter

…to stories about the dead…

“Some groups believed that the lights were caused by spirits holding torches as they searched for the souls of those who recently died. These spirits also communicated with humans by making whistling sounds and the humans whispered back with messages for the dead.” Source

…the phenomena of the Aurora has created an impact on the lives of many for centuries. Mine is only one of them.

The whole reason why I decided to write about the Northern Lights today is because I might actually get a chance to see them when I’m on my Coho tour. One of our nights will be spent in Jasper National Park, which was recently declared the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. On top of that, the best time of year to see them is late-September through March, and I’ll be there in late October. There are astronomy societies who are able to “forecast” when the lights will be visible, so I’m going to keep my eye out for predictions during my visit.

If by the grace of whomever is looking over me I am finally given the chance to experience the lights, I think I might just cry. Actually, I know I will (I’m such a baby, I even cry at commercials. I once cried during fireworks for chrissakes). Those lights, just like those majestic Rockies, stir something deep within me. It’s hard for me to put into words the feeling that comes over me when I experience things that make my soul want to sing. Call it elation, joy, bliss, awe, a tingling of the skin…whatever suits you best. To me, if I finally get to see those dancing lights, in a land unknown to me no less, I think my heart might just grow an inch.

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