Happiness Moments: The Northern Lights
Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which it’s loveliness arises. ~ Pedro Calderon de la Barca
So a little writing experiment for the blog. I’ve been wanting to find a way to do some free writing as practice. And I’ve been wanting to capture the moments in my life that have brought me true happiness. I need that little pick me up right now with everything going on in the world and no real chance to travel. So, some writing about happy moments in my life, hope they bring you a little happiness too.
On my bucket list for a very long time was a desire to see the Northern Lights, and for the science minded among you the Aurora Borealis. For my 40th birthday I decided to go to Fairbanks, Alaska during prime Northern Lights season in order to both visit my 50th state and see the lights. I traveled to Alaska near the end of winter, heading very close to the Arctic Circle. I was told I picked a good time, the night before I had arrived, there had been an absolutely wonderful display. Unfortunately, for the next three nights that I was in town, I would spend hours freezing my ass off staring and dark, clear, starry skies with no lights.
It would be another ten years before I would make another attempt to see the Northern Lights. Again, I combined it with another bucket list item, this time, photographing polar bears in the wild. So I headed up to Winnipeg in Canada and jumped a prop plane over to Churchill, Manitoba a town known as the Polar Bear capitol of the world. The reason for this is that Polar Bears hunt seals off of ice flows in the Hudson Bay. Over the eons, the bears have learned that the bay near Churchill is where the ice freezes first each year. This has to do with a small peninsula near Churchill and the counter clockwise flow of the currents in Hudson Bay. So as winter approaches, Polar Bears head for Churchill. I had booked an excursion in which I would get to sleep out on the Tundra for two nights and spend three days prowling the tundra in rovers looking for and photographing Polar Bears. It was an utterly amazing experience and I think you’ll find the photos in the piece that I’ve linked to absolutely wonderful.
Our schedule each day was the same, get up early, eat a wonderful breakfast. Pack our gear, get on the rovers and head out looking for Polar Bears for the next six hours. We had bag lunches on the rovers and as you can see above, got up close and personal with the bears and got some great photos. They look so sweet and cuddly, but at this point most of these bears haven’t eaten for six months. So that look, that seems like come pet me, is actually c’mon just a little closer, closer…seriously, they wouldn’t hesitate for a second to kill and eat you. This is especially on your mind when walking around Churchill itself, where bears are enough of a threat that no one locks their car doors. This is so that if someone encounters a bear on the street they can jump into a car to escape.
At the end of each day, we’d return to our giant lodge on wheels, eat a wonderful dinner and then have a group meeting to review the day and plan the next. Each night when you go to sleep, instead of a do not disturb sign, you get a please disturb sign to put out if you choose. This is to tell the staff that if there are Northern Lights, the SHOULD wake you up. Our second night out on the Tundra, as our briefing wrapped up, someone inquired about the signs and the staff said, no need, get your gear. The lights had already started.
They began as a thin green curtain on the horizon that continued to grow higher and higher in the sky. You can see from the photo above that the entire sky in one direction would end up filled with green light.
At one point, as the green lights rose up high in the sky, someone said, “oh my god, turn around” In the other direction a very similar thing was happening but these lights were red. They had already risen nearly over our head and soon the two lights were almost touching. Now I should stop here, because no one will believe what I’m about to say and I don’t blame them. What happened next, I don’t even think is scientifically reasonable to tell you what happened. But as we looked over and then up, the two sets of lights overlapped and then they swirled together. I can’t explain it scientifically, and we were all completely blown away, a deck full of photographers, standing, staring at this amazing sight and you couldn’t hear a single camera clicking. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen, so beautiful that tears rolled down my cheek and froze to my face and beard. As quickly as they had come together, they quickly dissipated. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. The next day in Churchill even the locals were talking about the display, one waitress told me that she’d lived there for twenty years and it was easily the best display she’d ever seen. I am a fortunate man indeed.
I love this story and memory of yours, Michael. And I love the Please Disturb signs. A way to start any new adventure and memory!