The aurora borealis is visible in the Northern sky throughout the entire year. However, as February and March -prime viewing time- draw closer, so do hundreds of eager and somewhat crazy travelers to the town of Churchill, MB nestled on the Precambrian shield of the Hudson Bay. While local Churchillians often view the “Northern lights”,as they are also known,as a beautifully, majestic experience, they certainly find it hard to grasp why people from all over the world travel to Churchill for a chance to see them. Whatever stirs inside these brave souls for them to venture to the frigid, frozen Arctic can only be understood by someone feeling the same passion for the North.
Over my many years in Churchill I personally have seen the aurora in the Fall polar bear season and throughout the Summer months on numerous occasions…though August being the best of those Summer months due to shorter days and more chance to view them. The Fall season-October and November- can be stellar viewing but sightings are random and less predictable then mid-Winter. Predominant reasons for this is the 800 sq mile body of water lapping the shores of those Precambrian rocks known as the Hudson Bay. This massive oceanic bay remains ice- free well into late November and even then will not freeze completely until another month or two. This allows moisture to be sucked up into the air in the region which is at war so to speak as warmer Southerly winds battle Northerly chilled gusts for territorial rights. Despite global warming, the cold Northerly winds always are victorious only getting colder as the Winter trudges on. Sometimes it feels as if time comes to a halt…the past few days in Churchill have been in the -40’s C with that infamous “wind chill” factor. And yes..it is a very large factor!
Now that the season for viewing the lights is upon us, it is not always a guarantee you will see them. Last year was out of the ordinary as viewing was minimal during this same time. Travelers with Natural Habitat’s Aurora trips came away quite satisfied however as guide Karen Walker was able to provide them with a fantastic “Arctic-like” experience that cannot be simulated on your ipad from your comfortable couch. Just experiencing the harsh cold and the ways and culture of the people in the North embeds an experience one will never forget. There’s something about everything you experience under those conditions that sharpens the memory like the tip of a hanging icicle. Life as most know it slows to a zen-like stillness only enhanced by the cold. Senses are sharpened so that each and every detail of daily life gains importance. Dog-sledding across vast treeless tundra becomes a life changing event.
Speaking of dog-sledding …the Hudson Bay Quest is drawing near. Thirteen mushers are registered thus far to depart Gillam,MB and race 200 miles to Churchill for the championship. Charlie Lundie from Churchill will be defending his title as the first Churchillian to win the prize. Race organizer Dave Daley will also be mushing with hopes to win as well. I’m hoping to get one or both of their thoughts and expectations on the race in the next few weeks…stay tuned.
Leaving you with this amazing video of some aurora from space.