Northern Lights IV

Having spent the weekend at Sandi and Karl’s cabin on English River, we’d returned to Rigolet a wee exhausted, but also quite rejuvenated. There’s nothing quite like a sense of relative isolation to clear the head.

Much of the week was spent with various community members, chatting about the land and environment, various aspects of health, and how best to monitor the things that the community had identified as most important to them. This included a set of follow-up interviews, which this time around felt less like interviews and more like catching up with old friends. In some cases I sat listening, quite literally awed by the stories and experiences that were being shared with me. In other interviews I shook my head because someone had revealed a new piece of information, a new insight, or a new angle on which to view the tools that Oliver and I have been tasked with building for the community monitoring program that I hadn’t thought of before. With every discussion the vision I had of the tools we were building morphed into something more completely Rigolet. I felt inspired and extremely fortunate to be able to work with this town and these people.

Despite a busy schedule of meetings, interviews, school visits, and an open house, working with the community of Rigolet never quite feels like work. I’m sure there’s something to be said about the lack of internet leading to a less distracted mind, or spending a week focused on only one project, but I think it has more to do with Rigolet itself and the people who live there. I struggle to come up with another place where the people are as friendly, as welcoming. Even the many layers necessary to protect oneself from the cold fails to deter them. Faces and heads covered in scarves and toques, not a single person skidoos past without a wave or a hello, their smiles given away by cheery eyes.

In the spaces between meetings and other work related things, we found ourselves amply fed by Sandi. How she manages to whip up the food she does in the time she has, and as if out of nowhere, I’ll never know. What I do know is that once again we were spoiled. And just when I thought I couldn’t possibly eat more, she pulled out banana bread and chocolate chip banana bread. And red berry tarts. And red berry pie (both gluten free and regular). And oh yeah, also a bakeapple pie – because why have one type of pie when you can have two? I don’t normally expect to gain weight when I’m travelling like this, but for Sandi’s baking I will always make an exception.

After one particular eve stuffing ourselves until it hurt we returned to the B&B to relax, and enjoy some tea over a not-so-family-friendly game of Cards Against Humanity. We were several rounds in when the phone rang. It was Sandi calmly informing us that the northern lights were out. Before Ashlee even hung up the phone we quite literally dropped what we were doing, and made a mad dash to throw on whatever layers we could as we stumbled out into the cold night. And there they were – just across the water. At first they seemed simply to be clouds, but as my eyes adjusted I could see they were shimmering and dancing ever so slowly in the sky. This was my first northern lights experience.

We decided to venture out on the skidoo, cameras in hand, to try to capture the aurora from the airport where light pollution would be completely minimized. The night was cold and the wind was biting, but we were undeterred. The farther we got from town, the clearer the aurora became. It was a vibrant green that seemed to move in time with an unseen wind. It stretched across the sky, changing intensity with a rhythmic breath; a collection of wise and knowing ancients gazing down on us from some other dimension. We whistled at it and it seemed to respond, aware of our presence. As we watched it dance effortlessly under the stars, I wondered what ancient knowledge it might be trying to tell us, unable to share it because we just aren’t ready to understand it yet.

I’m not sure how long we stood gazing in awe up at the sky; the night felt timeless. Were it not for the cold I could likely have stood there for hours enjoying the beauty of the vast expanse before me.

Sadly the reality of our return trip was soon before us. Thursday seemed to arrive unexpectedly, and I felt completely ill prepared to pack up my things to begin the first leg of my trip home. The trip was filled with so many incredible experiences that leaving felt abrupt, almost rude. I wanted to be back at the cabin. I wanted to see the sun descending over English River. I wanted to be winding my way through the snow covered trees on the back of the skidoo with Ashlee. I wanted to stand in the glow of the northern lights. I wanted more pie.

Of course, my experiences in Rigolet and on the land wouldn’t have been possible without Sandi and Karl. I am forever indebted to them for not only keeping me safe on the land, and keeping me well fed every day, but for being incredibly welcoming. They opened their home once again to me. They shared their lives, their knowledge, and their stories. And they made me feel like part of their family. They are some of the most incredible people I’ve had the fortune to meet, and I can’t wait to see them again.

So long for now Rigolet. I’m counting down the days until my next visit.

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