Saturday, June 3, 2017

I Remember When by Victoria Chatham

I Remember When. . . oh, my. Where do I start? So many memories from my childhood, from any of the many moves we made from one army barracks to another. New homes, new places, new people. Looking back, my life has been a constant flow of change.

But now I live in Canada, and it's this great country's 150th birthday this year. To celebrate that, I decided to pull a memory from my early days in Alberta. There was much here that impressed me, but one of the sights that eluded me was the Northern Lights, about which I heard so much.

They danced all night. If you listen hard, you could hear them. Their colours were so pretty. You would never forget them. It was difficult to believe all I was told. Old timers said they were the result of, or harbingers for, changes in the weather.

I didn't care. I just hadn't seen them. Time went on and the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis of legend, remained just that. Living in Calgary, with all the ambient night light, was a pretty sure indicator that I was unlikely to see them in the heart of this great city. However, a late September trip to Fort St. James in British Columbia, changed all that.

We stayed with my late husband's cousin and his family, enjoying their hospitality which extended from their log home into a magnificent back yard backed by a forest of dense fir and spruce trees. The first night there we had a barbecue on the biggest fire-pit I'd ever seen. I am sure it was big enough to have accommodated a whole cow.   I was still at the stage of getting used to the size of everything in Canada.

We ate, drank, talked and, as we did, the afternoon morphed into the evening and before I even knew it, the night was upon us. It may have been the wine I'd been imbibing but the midnight blue sky seemed a deeper, richer colour. I was sure if I could reach out and touch it, it would be as soft and luxuriant as the most expensive cotton velvet. I had never seen so many stars but was able to pick out many including my star sign, the constellation of Virgo, the brightest of which is Spica, often used in navigation.

My husband's cousin pointed out satellites and meteors and talked knowledgeably on the airlines that had routes over that part of the province. Conversation slowed, the fire burned down to a nest of glowing embers, and suddenly bed seemed like a good idea. About to haul myself out of my comfy chair, I happened to look up and could not believe my eyes.

The night had changed from that of celestial slumber to a screen as bright as day. Colours of the rainbow danced their way up and down the sky, shimmering shades of pink and violet, then slashes of
yellow and green. The sky shifted and whirled like a kaleidoscope around me and, instead of being simply being a watcher, I was lifted on that brightly stained tide of motion and became part and parcel of it.

Unaware of the amusement my awe and delight had engendered in the family, I continued to babble goodness-knows-what at shifting shadows around me. A hand on my shoulder urged me to sit forward and pillows miraculously cushioned my back. Someone pulled a toque onto my head and ordered me to put on the mitts plonked in my lap. While I wiggled my fingers into their furry embrace, someone else appeared with a down comforter that was wrapped snuggly around my legs. My husband appeared with an armful of logs and carefully built up the fire. The final touch was a carafe of hot chocolate and a plate of chocolate cookies. After that everyone went to bed and I was on my own with the wonderful palette and panoply that surrounded me.

I have no idea how long I remained awake, watching the constant motion above me, the slip and slide of one colour and pattern into the long glissade of another, as smooth a movement as a skater gliding across a sheet of ice. At some point, I fell into a deep sleep worn out, no doubt, by this new and almost unbelievable experience.

When I finally awoke, thinking that I had had a marvelous psychedelic dream, it slowly came to me that what I had experienced was not a dream. I still had on the toque and mitts. The comforter was still snug around my legs. Someone had stoked the fire flames licked greedily up the new logs. A carafe of hot coffee replaced that of the chocolate and in place of the cookies was a plate of bacon, eggs, and beans.

The welcome my husband's family had shown us was beyond anything I had ever expected but the sheer joy of that Canadian night will never be forgotten.  


  1. I remember when I first saw the Northern Lights too... I was a child immigrant... and I thought UFOs or something were landing!

  2. Oh my! What a beautiful memory!
    Sleeping under the Northern Lights all bundled and taken care of.
    That's an excellent scene - and now that you've written it, you must make it part of a book. :)

  3. What incredible imagery! I've never seen the Northern Lights, except in pictures, but your description made those pictures come to life.