In Search of Naka
After a day of fishing, checking traps, and collecting firewood, I asked a new friend to tell me a story about the northern lights. Over tea and ginger cookies, he told me about a hunting trip with this father many years ago when naka (the Dene word for the northern lights) had led them to caribou:
Neither man had seen any sign of caribou in several days. After building camp for the night, the father pointed off into the distance and said they would hunt in that direction tomorrow. He was indicating the direction underneath the northern lights which could be seen in the distance, but made no comment on this coincidence to his son. However, this was his way of teaching. The son had to observe and experience in order to learn. The following day, the father set out early on snowshoes, while the son harnessed their best team of dogs. The son caught up with his father and together they traveled in the direction of the naka the night before. At first they did not see anything, so they traveled farther. Then they saw some tracks, but they were old, so they traveled farther. The farther they traveled, the newer the tracks became, until they came upon a large, fresh path through the snow. The father signaled to pull the sled up a hill and out of the way. He sat and began to pack a pipe to wait. Before he could light the tobacco, a herd of caribou rounded the bend and walked toward the men. The father abandoned his pipe, took off his hat and poured his shells inside. They shot fifteen caribou that day. The son asked the father if caribou were attracted to naka. The father responded yes, because when their hooves click together naka dances for them across the sky.
I took as little artistic liberty with that story as I could, except to exclude names. It was a really profound experience to hear this story from the man who lived it. The imagery he created and the utility of a phenomenon that I had only attributed an aesthetic beauty was quite remarkable. Hearing the story just redoubled my determination to see what I came here for.
Last night it all finally paid off, but I am finding it incredibly hard to articulate the event. It is too simple to say that I saw the aurora, because it was more of an experience. At the time it did not seem so profound, but now as I try to write and describe what I saw I am becoming increasingly more blocked. For now, I will let the pictures tell the story of my first experience with naka.