4artandadventure

Alaska

A Spectacular Performance: The Northern Lights

March 30, 2016,
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Halfway between Watson Lake and Fort Nelson BC along the Alcan, we pull in at the Liard Hot Springs Campground, choose a spot next to one occupied by a bike like ours, and set up camp. Pretty soon, we meet our neighbor and almost immediate friend Ryan, and the three of us go jump in the hot springs, a mere mile away. After two weeks spent mostly in cold, wet weather, soaking in hot water is definitely a treat — not to mention the added advantage of being clean afterwards. Although, this trip has been incredibly unusual in this regard: most campgrounds we stayed at had showers. That’s a first.

In the pool, I do my usual “Chattertunian act” and talk with everybody only to find out that there is a third pool but that it is closed due to “the snails.” Snails? Yuk. I feel instant gratitude for the hot springs’ owners who care so much about us that they protect us from disgusting “terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusks.” That’s when I am told “au contraire, Madame: the pool isn’t closed for you, insignificant homo sapien, but for the sake of the “endangered” snails.” To make matters worse, there was talk of a bear who appreciates hot springs. Unlike the snails, he probably doesn’t have a preference for the 3rd pool so I’m feeling a little anxious all of a sudden: to him I may just look like a steamed bun. I’ll take the snails after all.

Snails or no snails, I did appreciate the scorching pool, located in the middle of the boreal forest, and at the end of a long boardwalk floating above a warm water swamp which supports rich and diverse plant communities, and gets visited by moose, elk, bear and caribou alike. Oh – and snails.

After our soak, the three of us decide to combine our resources to make a tasty dinner, followed by a big toasty fire, classic single malt scotch, and hot chocolates. Still no rain, life is good. The forecast for tonight’s northern lights is looking really good, especially between 11pm and 2am. This throws me back to my 2012 trip to Alaska when, for three weeks I turned on multiple alarms between 1 and 3am in hopes of catching a glimpse of this elusive phenomenon. I had no luck, which explains my current lack of enthusiasm. Still incorrigibly hopeful, one of us does a quick routine head check to the North sky from time to time, just to resume the conversation seconds later. At 11:17pm, for reasons still unclear, Ryan stands up and turns around (to the South, I might add). Deep into our fire meditation, Mike and I hear a loaded “Hey … you guys …” Compelled to turn around, ever so slowly as we don’t know if we are about to face a bear or another disaster, our jaws fall open and we let out a deep “wooooooooow.” To this day, we wonder how long the Northern Lights had been illuminating the entire southern, western and eastern skies with their sensual undulating glimmering dance, while we were fixated on our fire, with our backs to them.

No description could give them justice. I can only think of words …

majestic … graceful … swirl … dance … still … liquid … motion … bright … fade … glisten … pulsate … ribbons … circle … explosion … disappear … shoot … expand … resorb … overwhelming … waterfall … cascade … spiral …

The next time we look at our watches, it is 2am and we notice that, almost in a stupor, we had walked halfway to the springs again. Just about then, a voice reaches us in the dark and warns us of a moose roaming the exact area we are occupying.

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