“The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.” Robert W. Service
I have been wanting to quote Robert W. Service since the first post I wrote about the Yukon, but until today I have had no right to. Now, I feel I do have that right. The night before last I saw, for the first time in my life, the northern lights. I didn’t see them for very long, but I did see them.
For the past four or five days Suzanne and I have been house sitting for a rather eccentric older hippie about twenty minutes outside of Whitehorse. The house itself is beautiful, in fact, I have never really seen anything quite like it. Any attempts to describe it would not do it justice so I will leave it at this, it is really cool. Where we are staying, as I said is about twenty minutes outside of Whitehorse. Now, twenty minutes outside of Montreal, or Halifax, or Vancouver is pretty much the same as being right in one of those cities. Twenty minutes outside of Whitehorse is woods.
Where we are staying is surrounded by nothing but nature. Looking out the large front window as I write this all I can see is trees and a snow-covered lake. To get here you have to drive down two dirt roads, walk up a driveway still to snow-covered to drive, and walk through a path in the woods. Secluded is an understatement.
Though I said that describing this house would not do it justice there is one feature that is important to the story which I am about to tell you. On the roof of this house is a large three level patio complete with gazebo and an atrium/greenhouse. Like I said, this place is really cool.
As you can likely imagine, it gets dark here as there no street lights, no lights from neighbors, nothing like that. Of course, being that it is the Yukon, and it is now May, it doesn’t get dark until very late. When it gets dark though, it is very dark.
Okay, now that you have a pretty good image in your mind let’s get started.
It was two nights ago. I was out on the patio having one last cigarette before bed. It was a fairly cloudy night with just one clear strip of sky right above me. As I stood staring off into the great vastness of space, contemplating the cosmos, I noticed an odd green streak in the sky. I, having no experience with the northern lights simply saw but did not see. After some deep contemplation and the last few drags of my cigarette I carefully walked down the winding, snow-covered stairs content and headed for a sound sleep. Once safely down the stairs and back inside I found Suzanne reading in bed and crawled in beside her. Nonchalantly I told her about the green streak in the sky. She went outside to check.
As I lay there, halfway between sleep and being awake I heard Suzanne call to me. “Ben!” she said. “Come quick!” I was up in a flash. I knew that I was about to see something I had been longing to see for a very long time. I was about to see the northern lights. I put on my boots and quickly made my way back up the treacherous stairs to the summit of the house. With an excitement I can only describe as a child waking on Christmas morning I threw back my head and with eyes wide beheld nothing. As quickly as they had come, they had gone. I looked at Suzanne with a look I can only describe as a child who had been promised a bike for Christmas receiving only socks. I was hurt, I was angry, I was confused. Why would someone whom I love play such a cruel trick on me? Why would she disturb me from my impending slumber to see nothing? What cruel joke was this? According to Suzanne the lights had been out. They had been splendid. The clouds had separated and the stars had alined just long enough for the lights of the north to shine. And shine they did, according to Suzanne, just long enough for me to get excited, but not long enough for me to actually see them.
Despite my frustration I believed Suzanne. She insisted that we stay outside for a few minutes longer in hopes that the mystical dancing lights would return and once more grace the skies with their presence. I was unconvinced but agreed to stay out a bit longer. So there we stood, the two of us. Straining our necks, looking up at the sky, cursing the northern lights as they had cursed us, losing faith and interest with every passing moment. Then it was there. A green streak in the sky like the one I had seen earlier that night, taunting us, challenging us to see how long we would wait and fight off sleep all in the hopes that they, the lights, may once again shine down on us.
Wait we did. We waited until all hope was gone and then we waited some more. We waited for the seasons to change and the earth to crumble beneath us. We waited for an eternity. We waited, we waited, and we waited. We waited, for at least ten minutes. Still nothing was happening. At this point I was determined to die on the roof. I would starve, I would freeze, I would dehydrate, but the one thing I wouldn’t do was let those damn lights get the better of me. I swore to myself in that moment of frustration and hostility that I would see those lights, and so, I waited some more.
I think that the lights sensed my outrage and determination. Between you and me I am pretty sure I scared them as I cursed to the heavens. Whatever the reason, just before I was about to fall from what could only have been due to the lack of nourishment I had received during the now fifteen minutes I had been waiting for the stupid lights they decided I was worthy. With a sore neck and sleep hanging about my eyes like a thick fog I once again, and for what I swore would be the last time, threw my head back and looked to the skies. There, in that fleeting moment, for literally less than forty-five seconds, I saw the northern lights.
I saw the remarkable dance as the lights twisted this way and that on the stage set by the stars and the ever passing clouds. I saw the green lights that I had read so much about, and that people had been looking up at for thousands of years. I saw, in that brief moment, something so beautiful it made all my anger and frustration melt away. Then, just as quickly as they had appeared, they were gone. It was simply a tease, a taste, a “Hey how ya doing?”. It was incredible.
As the seasons are changing and the days grow longer opportunities to see the northern lights grow less and less. It is very possible that I will not have another chance to see them while I am here unless I decide to stay for the winter. Though this thought is not a pleasant one I am ecstatic that I got to see the fabled northern lights if even for such a short time.
I will finish this post with a line again borrowed from Robert W. Service
The northern lights have seen queer sights,
but the queerest they ever did see
was the night on the roof I screamed and I swore
Damn lights! Show yourself to me.
Until next time.