Oh, it was wild and weird and wan, and ever in camp o' nights
We would watch and watch the silver dance of the mystic Northern Lights.
And soft they danced from the Polar sky and swept in primrose haze;
And swift they pranced with their silver feet, and peirced with a blinding blaze.
They danced a cotillion in the sky; they were rose and silver shod;
It was not good for the eyes of man - t'was a sight for the eyes of God.
It made us mad and strange and sad, and the gold whereof we dreamed
Was all forgot, and our only thought was of the lights that gleamed.
Woodcut by Mark Summers
The Northern Lights are one of the treats of northern Canada. They are whimsical, and fickle, and appear only when they choose. When they do appear they are entrancing. On this last trip to Iqaluit I had a couple of occasions to see the northern lights.
When I am covering Obstetrics in Iqaluit, I typically sleep at home unless things are busy or someone is near delivering. Home is only a 5 minute walk from the hospital, and most of the calls back to the hospital are not emergent. Babies rarely deliver precipitously, and when they do they usually do with or without a doctors presence. Delivering babies is a nice job. Mainly I am there in case things go wrong, in case a shoulder gets stuck, in case of a post partum hemmorhage, in case of anything other than a normal delivery. Most deliveries are, in fact, normal and in those cases I am simply in the background and usually enjoying being present at the event.
beeeeep beeeeep beeeeep, my pager wakes me from sleep. I am a slow thinker in the wee hours and usually take a second to get my bearings. On the phone the nurse tells me Hi Dr. J., we have a 20 year old primup, just came in, she's having good contractions and is at about 8cm so no rush. No rush means I have time to add a layer of long underwear, because even a 5 minute walk is cold on a -30 C night. My walk to the hospital takes me out the front door of the apartment building, and down across a large gully. The bottom is dark and the edges keep the lights from the building from creeping in. No rush means there is time to look at the sky. Even without the northern lights the sky is big, free at the edges, not confined to a frame, untamed. Twice on this past trip that walk to the hospital was full of fire in the sky.
It's hard to explain what the northern lights look like. I had my camera with me both times, and probably could have taken a picture. My camera has lots of settings, and would probably capture an instant of the lights. It wouldn't capture the movement though, the dance of the lights. Regardless, I didn't take any pictures. There was time, I was in no rush after all, but it simply didn't occur to me. I stood and watched the light play in the sky, and after a while resumed walking. Into the hospital, to catch a baby, hoping to have no cause for my pressence in the end. Hoping the lights were a good omen.