Long Northern nights are profound in their stark beauty.
At 10:05 AM today, the sun will rise. By 3:11 PM, it will set. While it’s up, the sunlight will be intense. This is the sunniest city in Canada, after all, as well as the coldest. It’s -30ºC as I write this. In Yellowknife, at 62.45º North Latitude, this is perfectly normal a couple of days before the winter solstice. I find the cold and the dark enormously reassuring.
The fastest warming place on the planet is at the pole. Being this (relatively) close to it puts us on the front lines of warming, with local temperatures climbing at three times the global average rate. Having spent most of the last two decades obsessively focussed on climate change, the persistent cold reminds me that our planet hasn’t tipped all the way into its new hothouse state yet. We know it’s coming. But for now, winter retains its teeth, the air crisp, biting, the sky crowded with stars, the silence as I write profound and timeless.
The second largest circulation system in Earth’s atmosphere — the arctic oscillation that historically kept the coldest air bottled up over the polar ice sheet — now more frequently enters a negative phase, arctic winds leaking south to form polar vortices while warmer air rushes North in their stead, hastening the melt.
The cold feels right, a callback to the fiercer winters of my childhood in Southern Ontario’s snow belt. In the low local humidity, -30º here just doesn’t bite as deeply as -15º did in a moister clime. Apart from the way the wind can feel on the exposed skin of my face, simply layering up enough keeps the chill at bay surprisingly well. In the inside breast pocket of my coat, I slip the flask of warming brandy that was my father’s. I remember flying off of a toboggan deep into a snowbank when I was maybe eight or nine, and him offering me a warming jolt of it to hold the icy feel of the snow that had gotten down the back of my jacket at bay.
Just as warmer air can carry more moisture, colder air sheds it, making the canopy of sky astonishingly clear. In my other inside pocket I stash two extra camera batteries. They feel the cold more quickly than I do, so to shoot the aurora it helps to have backups. Sometimes the camera assures me that a battery…