When I first found out that I was going to make the trip to the subarctic tundra of Manitoba, Canada, I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know what to expect. All I really knew was that polar bears gather near Churchill each fall and there is a slim possibility of seeing the northern lights during the polar bear season. My mind instantly jumped to the beautiful pictures I’d seen from places like Iceland and Norway. I wondered if I would ever see anything so spectacular.
I said to my mom on the phone, “If I had my choice of a polar bear climbing up on the side of the Polar Rover or an aurora borealis display, I’d choose the northern lights every time.”
The fact that these dancing lights are impossible to recreate and can only be seen in specific destinations under specific conditions fascinated me. The beauty of something so natural truly struck a chord with me and it was all I could think of in the weeks leading up to my Churchill adventure.
Being on the first trip of the fall season, I was told the conditions wouldn’t be right for the northern lights to be visible. The Hudson Bay losing so much heat caused a near constant overcast and cloudy sky during the early season.
“Aurora displays are reserved for the winter northern lights trips,” I was told by a new friend, Konan. However, he did let me in on a secret iPhone app for tracking the aurora.
We put our “Please Disturb” signs on our door at the Tundra Lodge every night. Nothing. The forecast showed a 6 on the KP index, which is absurdly high, but the clouds just would not cooperate. Not until we got back to Churchill on the fourth night did the skies start to agree with my wishes. Sitting at dinner in town, I nudged Konan. The forecast showed a 30-degree night with little to no cloud cover. We sat anxiously waiting for everybody to finish dinner so that we could go back to the hotel.
We dropped the rest of the group off at the hotel and could not see anything from the center of town. No green dancing lights anywhere in sight.
“Hey, lets just go take a drive to the water and see if it’s a bit darker out there,” Konan suggested, as my hopes dwindled. He could not have been more right in his suggestion. The second we got out of town, I stuck my head out the window and there they were. The most beautiful and remarkable display of white, green, and purple waving at me as if they’d been waiting for my arrival.
I could have sat there all night. Such a display needed to be shared, however, so we raced back to the hotel to grab our group. Screaming up and down the halls: “Lights! Lights! Northern lights!!!”
Never in my life have I seen a small group of people assemble and load a bus so quickly and efficiently. By the time we got back down to the Hudson Bay, the lights were brighter than ever and we were now sharing the experience with three other groups all just standing in awe. I tried to grab my camera, jealous of the fancy lenses everyone around me had. Then it hit me that no picture would ever do this justice. While everybody else strained to get the best shot and viewed most of northern lights display through a camera lens, I found a rock (shaped like a throne), took a seat, and took it all in. Every color, shape, smell and even the bitter cold felt so magical. I never gave up hope of seeing the aurora borealis in Churchill, and it was there waiting for me.
This guest post was written by Nat Hab Operations Assistant Mike Shron.