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How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land?
The idea is strange to us.
Chief Seattle

I have gathered with a group from the temperate zone, lower 48, USA. We are in the rough-hewn frontier town of Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. This is definitely north, as in latitude 66, the Arctic Circle. It is Ground Hog day, but up here the ground hogs are AWOL! It's minus 30, wind chill minus 40. Spring? You've got to be kidding.

We are here to experience the great outdoors, or "Northern Studies 101" as the group affectionately calls it. What was it really like to be an Eskimo in the days of yore? We will build an igloo, go dog-sledding, and look up in wonder at the aurora borealis. Home base is the Seaport Motel, three squares per day and a cozy 72 degrees. Not exactly "extreme," but still roughing it for a wilderness warrior in the era of remote control and drive-thru dining? Better yet-room service, please.

I must confess that, in spite of my penchant for bed, breakfast, and climate control, I am strangely drawn to the outdoors, especially wide open spaces. The mix of thrill and awe is a powerful concoction, like a drug. I search for it everywhere. The feeling is kundalini, weird shivers that travel up and down the spine in magical, mystical moments. Goose bumps. For me it happens mostly in the grand cathedrals of nature, especially when I'm alone. And what grander cathedral than a winter sky waltzing with color?

Three nights and no northern lights. Churchill is blanketed in a rare winter fog, a white-out, visibility zilch. Everything is at a standstill, especially the fog. The group is ill-humored to put it mildly. This cannot be for real!

It's 9 P.M. and we bounce out of town a final time in the tundra buggy to look for the fabled lights. We are once again painstakingly wrapped in layers of puffy down. No one is optimistic about the skies. It snowed all day. A half hour later the buggy stops and we climb clumsily down the steps in our "space suit" attire, like Neal Armstrong, circa 1969. And alas, finally, we are greeted by a raven black sky with twinkling stars and planets. Already there is a faint green arc bisecting the sky. And then the waltz, twirling around the heavens, like a gift from god. The aurora borealis. Goose bumps!

© Danny Kimberlin 2015