Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Northern Lights

A few nights ago it was very clear and moonless, and from my back porch I watched the aurora borealis weave its way back and forth across the dark heavens. This particular night they looked like the hem of some spectral robe as its wearer traversed the backdrop of an ink-black stage bespattered with a few stars. Not too colourful this time, but I was able to make out faint cotton candy shades of green and pink. They are notoriously difficult to photograph, so I am not able to offer you a picture of what I saw.

You would think that the Northern Lights would become mundane to someone living in the Arctic, but they are relatively rare. The night skies are frequently cloud-covered or hazy, obscuring these dancing lights from view. The half of the lunar cycle surrounding the full moon also banishes them, as the ephemeral nature of these nocturnal lights cannot compete with the strong glow of the moon. And as we move ever closer towards the night-bright Arctic summer, the sun dismantles the jet black backdrop required to view them.

The arsaniit, as they are called in Inuttitut, are best viewed far away from the lights of the community, and it is out on the land on those rare cloudfree, moonless lights of early fall or late winter that their majesty can be best appreciated. Away from human settlement, the aurora borealis are not ashamed to show off their full palette of colours, hues and tints. Their dance becomes more animated as well, and sometimes I've been struck by the crazy notion that they are rushing towards me, tumbling down from the skies. I am not alone in this weird sensation - Inuit legend has it that the arsaniit reach down from the skies and try to decapitate unfortunate noctural travellers.

Alone and far from home, the Northern Lights become almost malevolent and with sinister intention. They are aware of your presence and isolation, standing still as you gaze upon them but quickly darting around whenever you avert your eyes. Insanely, but true, they will dance if you whistle at them, and you can actually hear the rustling of their ephemeral garments as they move back and forth to your whistled urgings. No one has ever been able to make a recording of these soft sounds. But then, being alone you can imagine all sorts of things.

One of the things I imagine is that you can peer up the skirts of the these not quite solid celestial beings whirling overhead, but you can never see deep enough to learn their secrets. So we must content ourselves to stare, rapt but ignorant, at their horrible luminescent beauty.

20 Comments:

Blogger Tea and Books, etc said...

Another beautifully written post.

My suggestion: submit this one and your post In Search of the Lost Chord :-D

10:30 AM  
Blogger nanuk said...

T&B, etc.: Thanks for your encouraging words. I was going to suggest recycling since I'm getting compressed time wise this week.

I have tremendous problems with titles, as you may have noticed. I spend almost as much time dithering with the title as the text. Any suggestions?

11:29 AM  
Blogger merlinprincesse said...

I remember seeing arsaniit when I lived in Chicoutimi... In those years, the weather was much colder. Never did I think they were horrible. More magic for me. But then I was only a little girl... From a quiet and nice little town....
If you want to take pics of it, use a tripod and a looooong exposition. You shoud be able to get something fine! :)

12:05 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

One January, I got up at about 1am every morning, trudged out onto the deck in my bathrobe and stood with my head tilted back and mouth agape until hypothermia set it.

Spectacular. Wouldn't have traded it for anything!

1:58 PM  
Blogger The Phosgene Kid said...

That was nice. Wiht writing like that you don't need a picture. Used to seem them up in Northern Wisconsin from time to time. If I see them here in AZ it means we are in big trouble.

2:44 PM  
Blogger Fuff said...

Lovely. Beautifully described.

4:13 PM  
Blogger Eternally Curious said...

You've quite a way with the written word Nanuk - despite your self-doubts. Made me believe I was actually there (truly).

6:46 PM  
Blogger The Wrath of Dawn said...

Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. Poetic, in fact.

Rather obscure title, though, old bean. Can't imagine how you came up with this one. (snicker, giggle)

I've seen the arsaniit from New Brunswick, but I imagine they are a very watered down version of what you see in the Arctic.

The only time I was in Labrador, from which you get a good view apparently, I was too busy getting a set in for a drama festival performance to watch them. Grrr.

11:20 PM  
Blogger SC said...

Beauty, Nanuk. An absolute treat. More please, in your own time.

1:40 AM  
Blogger fairscape said...

N

Fiat Arsaniit Lux

You may use this as your title.

4:04 AM  
Blogger nanuk said...

Thanks for the positive reviews, guys. But am I the only person who's insecurity grows the more they are complimented?

7:26 AM  
Blogger Eternally Curious said...

Never fear, nanuk - you are not alone in that! Our family has long ago given up trying to compliment my husband. The harder anyone tried, the more convinced he became that was the absolute worst he could possibly ever have done!

We've resorted to criticizing him mercilessly. He's ecstatic!!

I swear I'll never understand men!

7:19 PM  
Blogger SC said...

You're right to wonder, Nanuk. Quite healthy too, in my opinion. There's a point at which the near-professional no longer needs the encouragement of the gifted amateur. And you no longer fall into the latter category, I'm afraid.

Give yourself a break, though: whatever our standard, we all write the occasional dud now and again. Happens most weekdays for me. Oh, and weekends. I just quickly unpublish, and pretend they never happened.

:)

8:45 PM  
Blogger Tea and Books, etc said...

Nanuk, I have not noticed any issue with your blog titles. I say go with them as they are. :-)

9:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do not be alarmed ladies and gentlemen , that sucking sound your hear is just someone kissing the author's bum.

8:21 AM  
Blogger SC said...

Isn't it funny that people who have the courage to leave unpleasant remarks often lack the courage to let us know who they are? Bit of envy involved here perhaps, Anonymous? Your grammar seems adequate, although your spelling and punctuation both need a little attention. As do your ideas. Come back and try again later, ay? There's a good little critic.

1:21 AM  
Blogger SC said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:21 AM  
Blogger SC said...

Nanuk, please excuse the vitriol. An intellectual peasant, with neither mind nor manners, needed to be put to death.

You know your titles? I agree with Tea. I wouldn't worry. I think yours work well. I often make the mistake of trying to be too clever. You can almost see smoke coming out of my ears as I strain to think of another 'funny' pun. I forget, though, that a title should do its job: express something about the post. When all's said and done, not one single comment has ever been left about any of my tremendously 'funny', punny, titles. Sigh.

1:39 AM  
Blogger Tea and Books, etc said...

Awww, thanks for defending my honour, Seb. :-D

I think also need to review your comments. I'm quite sure that I've read -- and even posted! -- compliments on your witty and punny titles. :-)

1:43 PM  
Blogger SC said...

Most welcome, Tea. I was trying to defend the honour of all those who had made helpful, positive remarks. :) Thanks for the kind words about my punny titles!

2:10 PM  

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