This article originally appeared in the first issue of Boundless Magazine in November 2020.
Writer | Debbie Olsen
Outside our lodge, the world is dark and still. My husband and I gather with other guests around a large stone fireplace for an evening storytelling session with James Allen, an elder from the Southern Tutchone First Nations. His people have lived in this corner of the Yukon since time immemorial and he tells us the stories and legends he grew up with. The one I like best is about the aurora borealis.
“There are many legends about the northern lights,” explains Allen. “Our story is that the northern lights are a message from ancestors who have passed on. They dance in the Spirit World to let us know they are happy there.”
The lure of these legendary lights is what brought my husband and me to the Yukon. In winter, it’s a place of snow, ice, and extended nights. Clear, dark skies and a strategic location inside the Auroral Oval make the Yukon one of the best spots on the planet to see this breathtaking celestial display.
Our lodge is located on the border of Kluane National Park and Reserve, a place with inky black skies untouched by artificial light. Unfortunately, the night is cloudy and not ideal for aurora watching.
We retreat to our cabin and enjoy a deep sleep, undisturbed by any sound except the occasional hoot of an owl.
We’re up early the next day to meet Allen once more, this time for a special Indigenous culture tour. My husband and I take turns driving a snowmobile as we follow Allen along his trapline. He shows us a variety of handmade traps and talks about his memories going out onto the land trapping, foraging, and fishing with his grandfather. Afterward, we follow him to a lake where we try ice fishing.
Hearing Allen’s stories stirs something inside me—especially the legend of the aurora. I like the idea that the aurora has a deeper meaning. I think about the people in my life who have passed on and I hope they are happy. I hope they dance.
On the last night of our trip, we join a local tour operator for an aurora viewing excursion. It’s a new moon and conditions are ideal for viewing this marvel of nature. We keep warm inside a heated yurt, and we wait. Just after midnight, the first bursts of green light appear in the dark sky. It’s as if someone has turned on spotlights. Before long, colorful ribbons of green and pink are moving and twirling between the stars. An hour later, dramatic dancing green and red waves of light are cascading from one side of the horizon to the other in a mesmerizing, ethereal show. It’s extremely cold, but for a while, we lie on the snow and gaze up at the sky. Then it occurs to me that I shouldn’t let my ancestors dance alone. Under the blazing sky, I do a dance of my own—to let them know I’m happy here.
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