Observations after two days in Yellowknife

No lights to be had up here in the Yellowknife. Though the odds and the timing should all be in my favor, as luck would have it, the weather is not. Clouds have blanketed the sky from the time I landed until tonight, and now there is just enough thinning to pick out small pockets of the deep black sky. And though I am enjoying the consistent and almost balmy -20 degrees Fahrenheit, apparently what really brings out the best displays is a sharp drop in temperature. So I am both hoping a dreading a 20-degree drop with clear skies before I have to go home.

In the mean time, I have been busy exploring Yellowknife. I bundle up as the sun rises around 9:30 each morning and trek out into the twilight. A 20-minute walk finds me at a coffee shop where I stop to thaw. Then back out into the cold for another 30 minutes through the downtown and into Old Town. Today, I spent a few hours roaming around the original settlement, which is now dominated by art galleries and a few restaurants exhibiting a classic “northern fare” of fish and strong coffee.

View from Pilot Monument in Old Town, looking over Great Slave Lake toward New Town

Though I haven’t seen the aurora in the sky, it is everywhere you look in town. Art galleries sell trinkets and masterpieces dedicated to the lights, souvenir shops are rife with paraphernalia, and the tourist center has an interactive screen where you can make your own aurora. Every activity offered to tourists, from dog sledding to snowmobiling to snowshoeing, has both a daytime package and a special aurora-viewing package. It may be possible to leave Yellowknife thinking you have seen the northern lights after just a walk through town and a quick browse through tourist pamphlets.

Though the town is up to its ear warmers in aurora imagery, I am extremely hesitant to assume that this reflects the significance of the aurora to Yellowknife residents. In fact, more than anything, I am inclined to think it is all for the tourists. I have found the imagery concentrated in places easily accessible to visitors, but lacking in the local haunts. However, to be fair, I have found myself in far more tourist-focused areas than not. And this is not to say that aurora displays are inconsequential to locals, I have heard from several people that they often go out to wait for the lights.

Perhaps all I am trying to plant in your head and my own is the idea of superficial presentation versus reality when traveling to a new place. What do you see at first glance in a new community? Is it a true reflection of that community, or a fabrication for the eyes of visitors? If it is a created façade, why?

Whatever menial generalizations I can make are based on two days of gallivanting around a new town. The only thing I can report with any conviction is that it is cold. Really freaking cold. The kind of cold where your eyes water to keep from freezing and then your eyelashes freeze together. But be careful when trying to unstick your eyelashes, because if you open your eyes too far, your contacts with freeze and pop out. Despite that unique quandary, I am loving roving around in the bitter cold. It is exhilarating and exhausting trying to outsmart the needling cold. The sun sets around 4:00pm, and so far, I have been ready to crawl in bed about that time too.

Still able to smile after 4 hours outside

Tori Frecentese '13

I am a Senior Anthropology major with an African Studies minor from Stillwater, Minnesota. On campus I am involved in Salsa club, IM Hockey and Broomball, a student worker for Athletic Marketing, and a member of the Mortar Board and Blue Key Honor Societies. With varied interests and passions, at any give point you can find me at the library late night, tearing up the dance floor, or adventure-ing in the mountains.


  1. Jane Turnis says:

    Great details, Tori. Sounds like goggles might be a good idea! Thanks for sharing your adventure. May the clouds part soon!

  2. Pamela Frecentese says:

    Love your descriptive writing! I am almost feeling as cold as you! 🙂 And by the way…I think as wise old women told you to take goggles to protect your eyes?! Just saying!

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