I’m sweating buckets into my boots despite taking off my ski mask, gloves and unzipping my parka. Sliding around the living room floor, I dig my toes into the texture of the tall hairs of the carpet; a forest beneath my feet. My feet are wrapped in plastic grocery bags from Kaeser's store, protecting against the snow but not my own sweat. It's a common trick to do so when walking in a Northwest Territories' winter.
Inhaling the sweet aroma of chocolate-covered bannock, emanating from the kitchen, I nearly forgot the reason why I was there in the first place. My friend and I were getting ready to watch New Years Eve fireworks, over the Fort Smith lookout.
Tonight it’s -40 C, not including the wind-chill. Frost lines the glass around the window, building icy bridges fringing the glass panes. It reminds me of the ice road Dad and I crossed on our snowmobiles, the week before.
I hear a thudding sound behind me, of footsteps coming up the stairs from the basement. My friend, Thomas, is geared up and ready. Weighing in at about 150 lbs and at least 30 of that weight a solid mass of winter gloves, jet-black ski pants, parka, and -60C rated winter boots. We both knew the rating was fickle. When your feet got wet it was game over. That’s why we put bags over our socks, tucking them in at the ankles. Wet feet could easily become a problem, in the winter, for someone growing up in the Northwest Territories of Fort Smith.
With a quick pull, I cracked open the front door. A blast of wind fills our faces, assaulting our cheeks with a spray of tiny knives. It was a lot colder than -40 tonight. With the contribution of the wind-chill, it was probably easily -60 degrees Celsius. In this weather, pulling off a glove meant frostbite in under a minute.
About 10 seconds passed before Thomas and I took one last deep breath of bannock-scented warm air… and dove into the clutches of an icy winter wonderland
I felt the air stolen from my lungs, old man winter stole the last bit of heat I had been storing beneath my ribs
A short pause later, and the winter air filled my nostrils. I took a deep breath, tasting the cold air in my mouth, filling up my throat as if I had just taken a big gulp of ice water. I could hear my friend’s footsteps up ahead, crunching down the soft packed snow beneath his footfalls. Testily,
It was only a few feet before we plunged into pure darkness. Until our eyes adjusted. A glance to the heavens and I see the stars are out. It’s a clear night. Above, the purest white stars - glimmering like the eyes of millions of spectators - gaze down from above. Frigid winter air cut at me again, and I pull up my scarf, tucking it into my hood. I had my face covered but was thankful for the wind, as it helped me find the gaps in between the fabric. If there were any gaps in my coat, I now knew exactly where. That sub-arctic wind would let a man know exactly how vulnerable he was, and where. Like water, it flowed, unstopping through the air.
Down the snowy trail we walked, a muted royal blue reflects in the snow of the dark skies.
Within the depths of the darkness, the odd flicker of light sparkled between the trees. As if winking faeries were darting in between our peripheral vision. The arctic is truly the home of Canadian diamonds. Our trails are full of them, lined to the brim: moonlight reflecting off of the snow made us feel like kings, awash in our riches of the land. We were bathing in the light of the stars, above, and our path was lit from the diamonds lining the silent trail.
Alas, we are all royalty here, if you had the potential to recognise it within. For you have to have a bit of magic in your spirit to see the kingdom, otherwise, it would appear to the uninitiated as a frozen wasteland. But not to us, and not that night.
Tonight, we were kings in the great halls of the subarctic taiga, joined by merry dancers and ancestors alike in our court. As the trail flowed through the woods, so did we, in our regal cloaks lined with down and fur hoods. Before long we approached a slide in the land, leading down to a valley by the river bottom. It was here, on the Slave River, that we listened to the crack of the ice during the spring thaw. Where we launched boats in the summer, and courted our women during the autumn amongst the falling golden leafy trees. However, on this winter’s night, the trees were blackened like dark stone turrets. A top those turrets, we would be gifted by a display from Merlin himself.
Up the “turret” we began to climb. Stair by stair, we scaled every branch until near enough to the top to have a good view (but not to be spotted).
Upon reaching the top, we gazed out and noted the “wizards” had begun to take a position at the base of the hill, their dodgy steeds idling nearby. For several minutes, we waited, which soon turned to several more.
From below we hear a voice; “#$%^, it’s too cold. Nobody’s going to show up. Anyway, in this wind, I can’t get anything lit! Let’s go home! Fireworks display is cancelled for tonight.”
And so it was.
Yet we silently sat, swaying in the breeze, atop obsidian turrets and watched as our kin faded away, the lights from their trucks disappearing in the distance.
Fortunately, we were not alone, as we had brought our merry dancers, and they began to take their positions in the night sky above. Ready to make a show for us and the spectating stars above. Sprawling greens gave way to vibrant purples, then the orange, and the red. When suddenly; Light blue streaked by the crowds of stars; a meteor shower had begun.
It was time to wish in a new year
To the future of our northern kingdom.