The air is crisp, quiet, cold. It’s 2am and we’ve left our warm beds for this: the flat wide swath of ice road plowed on the frozen Great Slave Lake, coats zipped to our chins, truck doors slammed as we bound out onto the snow, mitten hands fumbling with a camera in the darkness.
The cold is biting and harsh, but it almost amplifies the magic of seeing a starry sky streaked with aurora…
We stand in a mostly colorless horizon. The snow, the ice, the black shapes of distant trees, the yellow white city lights, the shadowed silhouettes of us as we float between the truck and the edge of the road, it’s a bleak nighttime palate.
But above, there’s a subtle sea of infinite color. The Milky Way is a band of purple in the dark indigo sky. Aurora arcs burn a brilliant green, and the edges sometimes soften into reddish violet.
The northern lights ebb and flow like a river, writhing in a bending ribbon overhead that courses straight for a moment and then slows and lazily angles into great swirls. Apart from the bright streaks we see puffs of green, a wisp of light here and there, clouds growing brighter and then dim again.
Seeing an aurora for the first time was like discovering fire. It’s something so elemental – just a reaction of two things – but that release of energy, the mystic movement and brilliant burn, is so captivating that you almost can’t look away.
I’d seen pictures and animations of northern lights before, but they don’t capture the almost indescribable shimmering motion, or the overwhelming awe of standing here under a whole sky of this magic river of light in a frigid but clear winter night, when you’re so far from home, but so full of wonder.
(We watch this AuroraMAX webcam live stream to check if the aurora action is good before bundling up and heading out in the middle of the night. Take a look!)