We had just left the Kitimaat Village, the primary residence of the Haisla First Nations, with warmth in our bellies from a delicious meal, and warmth in our heart from being enveloped by a captivating sunset that had slowly etched its way across the sky, grabbing onto each cloud to bring forth an array of yellows, pinks and oranges. The single public eatery in Kitimaat, Seamasters Restaurant, as it was located on the edge of the Douglas Channel, a harbor that leads eventually out to the Pacific Ocean, provided us with a double gift of coloured sky and water. The water lapped calmly against the shore from soft ripples traversing its surface. Across to the other side of the harbor, perhaps three or so miles away, we could discern hills of evergreen trees, houses and boats – and the metallic sheen of industrial development on part of its edge in Kitimat, the ‘non-Aboriginal’ side, about a 30-minute drive away. The industrial complex has been built as part of the proposed Enridge oil processing and transport plan, in spite of its continued negotiation with over 60 First Nations communities across Alberta and British Columbia.
We had chosen Kitimaat Village without much hesitation, the Haisla residence with its highly recommended artistic shops and restaurant along the water’s edges. Seamasters was difficult to locate, nestled into the middle of the village, without a directional sign. We stopped to view a totem pole at the village’s entrance. It stood in isolation and we wondered about its story of creation and emergence.
When we left the restaurant it was dark. A darkness thick from a fully waned moon. We were careful to drive slowly along the winding road that leaves Kitimaat through heavy forest until it reaches the highway that leads us the 50 kilometers or so back to Terrace. Not more than 5 kilometers from Kitimaat, I suddenly noticed a shimmer of light dancing across the sky which seemed to be out of place, not connected to any human-created light. I had Udi stop the car as soon as there was enough of a shoulder. We stopped briefly as the shoulder was not wide or safe enough to witness the lights unfolding across the sky. The skies’ horizon was also hindered by large trees and the bright lights of cars passing more frequently than expected. We decided to drive the 45 minutes back to Terrace and explore ideal observation points from mapping options displayed on our GPS that was waiting for us in the hotel, and then go from there.
The GPS helped us decide to drive up Highway 113 to a lake that, on the map, appeared to be far from any human habitation. Highway 113 sharply curved its way out of Terrace, continuing on for miles in an inky blackness. We were wary of running into moose, bear, wolves, caribou, deer, so we restrained ourselves from driving too fast. We did not see any Aurora brightening the night’s sky, and we thought perhaps that our opportunity to witness the elusive event had disappeared as quickly as it had made itself known. Determinedly we drove on, convincing our impatience to hold back until we found a place to stop, a place that provided a wide open view of the night’s sky.
A wide turnoff appeared and we could just discern a lake below us. A view of the Big Dipper (or ‘Plough’ as I learned it is called in England) was clearly visible – directly in the middle of the sky’s northern horizon in front of us. It was nearly 10pm. We waited. We did not see any lights unfolding. 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes… I kept anxiously turning around every time I heard an unidentifiable noise, hoping that a bear was not choosing to pay us a visit.
During this time we had noticed a faint band that seemed to dust the entire sky at about a 60 degree angle in front of us. We wondered if that was part of the halo of solar particles that is the Aurora Borealis we had observed from photographs on the Internet gripping the upper northern hemisphere of the Earth – just two days ago. The appearance of the Aurora Borealis is not predictable, a clear sky and waning moon is necessary in addition to the clashing of charged solar particles and atoms high in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Suddenly a faint being came into view. It was as if a dancer who has been dormant, without warning, performs a half-hearted body wave in a ethereal and luminescent suit, before resting herself into another position – less dormant, but resting and visible all the same. This single body wave seems to awaken another, and then another, a domino of dancers, each reacting to the other. The particular splendour of the view was the reflection of the Lights dancing on the surface of the water below.
We later learned through Dempsey Bob that many First Nations groups relate to the Aurora as dancing spirits – appearances of their ancestors. We stood outside, marvelling at the lights when they appeared and waiting when they rested out of sight. The experience, especially the first time defies adequate articulation. It must be experienced. I felt the presence of my grandmother and other family and friends who have passed. They were somehow with me. Udi also felt it was a spiritual experience that is profoundly difficult to grasp in words.
When we realized it was after midnight and we had an early morning a few hours in front of us, especially after a long day of driving, we reluctantly headed back to Terrace. The Aurora were resting again when we left. Not 5 minutes after driving south, however, I saw the entire sky light up and we stopped again at a small shoulder. This particular dance surpassed anything we had thus far witnessed. Some how the Aurora had shimmied its way right above our heads as well lighting up the sky behind us. The lights were radiating out of a centre point in slow, hypnotic rays, a light purplish colour, different to the ones we had seen in front of us. We were so awestruck that we did not manage to capture this part of the experience on film. This photograph below is of the illuminated sky behind us.