The sun was about to set at. 23.30 on a snowy evening in late April 2013, then Star wars Actress Carrie Fisher found herself walking on a frozen lake, waiting for something special to happen. She did this for over two hours at -9 degrees.
“But damn it,” she wrote in one Havnemagasin article, “there we were all waiting for the stars to close their shining eyes so we could better see a swirling streak of icy smoke, spiraling up from an unseen fire glowing there below the horizon.”
When Fisher decided she wanted to see the Northern Lights before she died in 2016, by god, she had to do it, the temperatures were damn good. She had previously tried to witness the magic of the Northern Lights in Sweden, Scotland and Iceland and had so far been without success.
This time she came to Canada.
Specifically, Fisher went to a small town called Yellowknife, the only town in the Northwest Territories where the local university is called Aurora College. And when she decided to risk one more – and last – shot to see silently roaring green and purple lights dancing across a huge, dark sky, the late and once Princess Leia chose to go with North Star Adventures.
“If the sky is clear, you have a 95% chance of seeing them in Yellowknife,” says Joe Bailey, founder of North Star Adventures, the first known Northern Lights hunters. Yellowknife has been nicknamed the “Aurora Capital of North America.” And since 80-90% of the Northern Lights Oval is in Canada, plus its low humidity and light pollution, it makes sense why the chances of spotting the celestial phenomena are higher here than anywhere else in the world.
But there’s another reason why someone like Fisher would choose North Star Adventures, which claims to be the best and first Northern Lights hunters ever.
With a mischievous smile, Bailey says their tour guides have 50,000 years of experience. This is because the company is 100% native owned. He adds: “We are North America’s original tour guides.” And though he jokes about how it went for his people in the history books, he says with complete sincerity that his people today are just as welcome to any visitor.
“Storytelling: that’s what a true education is.”
The tribesmen of these Nations have always been surrounded by the Northern Lights and know them well. “I’ve been with the Northern Lights since I was a baby,” Bailey says, but he knows his tradition of chasing the Northern Lights extends for generations beyond just his own life. Passing on knowledge from the elderly is a crucial part of the original culture. It’s something Bailey picked up from his own elders out on the tundra, where, as he assures us, “You can live in a canvas tent at -40 degrees.” And that’s exactly what Bailey did as a child with her grandparents.
Before you start panicking, guests traveling with North Star Adventures in the winter can choose much more than just a canvas tent. The package includes stay at hotel or bed and breakfast, transportation, winter clothes at Canada level, professional photos and videos and hot chocolate with maple cakes so you do not forget which country you are in. You can even choose to add food, additional tours and dog sledding .
While many (including yours truly) hear Canada and think “cold” – puddle with words like “Arctic Circle”, “Yukon” and “tundra” – there are ways to deal with the weather and an incredible reason to do so. Give me a wood stove in a cozy cabin, hand warmers and stiff drinks before and after, for a chance at life? Now we’re talking.
North Star Adventures takes care of everything for guests, plus all the knowledge passed on and a human connection that is impossible to quantify – because another thing that comes free in the package is stories and many of them. “Storytelling,” says Bailey, “is what a true education is.”
As a citizen of Dene Nation, Bailey explains that the Northern Lights are what his native ancestors say are the souls of people who have passed away. According to Dene Nation, when you see the lights above move so fast, it means that the souls in the sky are trying to tell us that we no longer need to be sad anymore. They are a reminder to keep living.
It is something that resonates with many who see them.
“It was not every day that I got to see her in such awe for anything.”
“I can hear people crying, overwhelmed with emotion,” Bailey says. He believes the power of the Northern Lights is the reason why an 82-year-old Australian woman in another example would stand for three hours in the cold with a hot thermos and a damn good parka.
We may never know if Carrie Fisher saw souls in the sky telling her to be at peace, or how she felt when she saw the Northern Lights shake – which she finally saw on this trip. Her assistant at the time described “standing on a frozen lake and watching her look up and wonder,” to New York Post. “She had done and seen so many amazing things in her life at the time, it was not every day I got to see her in such awe of anything.”
Or we can refer to her own words about “enjoying every tear our thirsty eyes can swallow.”
The only real way to know how it feels is to see it for yourself. If you go, pack your warmest clothes, a willingness to embrace the elements, a tip for your original tour guide and Fisher’s last wish: “I hope the Northern Lights run through your veins until you feel you belong, find your place so close to right that it manages to overlook wrong. ”
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