Pole Dancer

Aurora Borealis seen from West Dawson on Valentine's Day 2012.

One of the beauties of my residency here at Berton House has been the lack of stress in my daily life. Oh, the odd nagging issue from back home has worked its way north, and there was the time the blackjack dealer at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s dealt herself twenty-one on the last hand of the night just as I was figuring to turn a profit for the outing, (and a couple of other what-happens-in-Dawson-stays-in-Dawson episodes best forgotten). Otherwise, though, I have been floating around here in a state of Zenlike tranquility.

One thing was starting seriously to eat at me, however. After six weeks here, I still had not yet seen the Northern Lights. I came up to the Yukon with a city boy’s preconception that the Aurora Borealis would, well, just be there. They turned out to be a frustratingly elusive quarry. There was, for example, a massive solar event on January 25th that enabled people to see the Lights quite far south, but wouldn’t you know it, Dawson City was in the midst of a snowfall that night. In fact, we have had an atypically cloudy winter overall, which was starting to raise my angst that I was going to have to go back to Toronto and tell my peeps that I was still an auroral virgin.

When I mentioned my disappointment to one of the bartenders, he just growled sarcastically, “Oh, no problem. Let me go outside and turn the damned things on for you.” The other locals were more sympathetic, but ultimately ended up adding insult to injury by regaling me with stories of the mind blowing displays they have witnessed in the past. On a couple of other occasions it was reported to me that the Lights had been out overnight, while I slept soundly through it.

I came to the conclusion that the Lights are like a beautiful woman. The more badly you want her, the more likely you are to get rejected. So I stopped obsessing about it. I no longer gazed constantly upward whenever I was out at night. I blew away the bookmarks to the four-or-so aurora forecast websites I had been haunting daily trying to get a read on probabilities. “I don’t care if I ever see the Lights,” I announced to the heavens.

And, lo and behold, as I was coming out of the Pit a couple of nights later, there they were — and they have kept on appearing. I’ve seen them almost daily now for the past week-plus, including one full-on horizon-to-horizon display on Valentine’s Day that even had jaded native Dawsonites outside on the street gawking.

NASA image of the Aurora Borealis as seen from space.

The Northern Lights are hard to describe precisely, because they are different every time. The effect is caused by the solar wind rubbing against the magnetic force field that surrounds us here on Sol III, so there are multiple variables that control their form, size, and intensity. Because of the way the earth’s magnetic field curves down at the North and South Poles, it is largely confined to these regions, with the Aurora Australis being the southern equivalent.

Sometimes, they are a mere glow on the horizon, at other times they are huge dancing and rippling sheets, or they can be a series of twisting and interconnected spirals. The Lights are generally green and white, but can have other colours — like reds, blues, and purples — during especially active outbursts.

There are many myths surrounding this beautiful natural polar light show, but even the various First Nations cultures that live beneath the Aurora Borealis don’t agree on them. Some say that if you whistle at the lights, you can make them dance; others say never whistle at them, especially when they’re low to the ground, because if you attract their attention they’ll steal your life essence. Many Japanese think a child conceived under the Northern Lights will be especially blessed, and there’s a thriving tourism trade offering excursions to the North specifically for open-air auroral copulation.

If you whistle at the Northern Lights they will dance for you ... but then they will have to kill you.

Then there is the question of whether the Lights generate sound. Scientists will show you the physics that proves this is an impossibility, but I have talked to eyewitnesses who beg to differ (although they will admit it is rare). Some Dene traditions even speak of the smell of the Aurora, although it’s almost universally believed that inhaling the Lights is especially dangerous.

All I know is that, having finally met her, I am in love with Aurora. She is ethereal and sensual, complicated and unpredictable. She makes my heart beat faster every time I see her, even if it’s just a glimpse from afar, and makes me want to stay up all night to be with her. This Pole dancer moves beautifully and gracefully. Yes, she can be a tease sometimes, and even when she does put in an appearance, she may only stay for a few minutes. But, oh my, when she’s in a party mood, Aurora can dance non-stop for hours, and all you want to do is watch her.