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Yellowknife Aurora watchers 'forget normal life' in rapture over northern lights

An overcast sky blocks the view of the aurora borealis in the sky above Aurora Village in Yellowknife, NWT. Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

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An overcast sky blocks the view of the aurora borealis in the sky above Aurora Village in Yellowknife, NWT. Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

YELLOWKNIFE - A van picks up a score or so of tourists from a Yellowknife hotel and heads off into the night, destination wonderment.

"The aurora is one of our dreams, to us," explains Kazna Mori of Japan, who's come to these silent, snowy woods outside of the northern capital in hopes that on this night the northern lights will dance for her.

"It's a dreaming thing," she says. "It's a miracle thing."

She's one of a few dozen visitors this night to Aurora Village, a collection of wood-heated teepees and other facilities about a half-hour's drive into the boreal forest, where the only competition for the aurora borealis comes from the stars and the moon.

For 10 years, the village has welcomed viewers to one of the best borealis-watching sites in the world, favoured by its inland geography and position under the aurora ovals where the celestial lights have their origin far above the earth.

"A good night, you're totally in awe," says Steve Herrett, who's been hosting visitors here for eight years.

"My mouth falls open and my head goes back. It can make you feel so minuscule and tiny, it's so powerful. You feel gifted to experience something like it."

Most of the visitors are from Japan and Taiwan, says Herrett. China is a growing source, with even a few Canadians starting to take an interest in the light show in their own northern backyard.

A particularly good aurora, with vast veils of green and pink furling and rippling across the sky, is greeted like a rock star.

"All the girls start screaming," Herrett says. "They're just so excited. It's almost hysteria."

And yes, sometimes you can hear the aurora.

"I've heard them once," says Herrett. "It sounds like static electricity, a little bit of a crackling sound."

He says some scientists suggest it's not a sound at all, but a resonance the aurora actually produces within the human body.

"It appears in historic records that long ago the explorers and the Inuit people heard them frequently. Today it's very rare. We wonder what that's all about."

It's about -20 C this night, mild by the standards of Yellowknife in January. But Aradhna Kaur of Singapore has never worn so many clothes.

"Absolutely not," she says with a laugh, flexing the bulky sleeves of her village-provided parka. "It's odd, but interesting."

Worth it, though.

"It's been on my bucket list for a while," says Kaur, who's here on honeymoon with her husband Onkar Singh. "It's a sight to see, something that's beautiful."

For Euncseor Kin of Korea, seeing the lights would be a personal good luck charm for 2014.

"It's a new year," he says. "To see it would be a hope that everything is going well."

Kayko Sayna has planned her trip from Japan around this night. It is, for her, a celebration of the beauty of nature.

"I have my eyesight, God gave us this. I want to see the wonder of nature. Anything is beautiful — trees, flowers, mountains — but the aurora is the most beautiful."

This night's show is muted by a curtain of high cloud. But the visitors enjoy themselves anyway, kicking through the fresh, silky snow, listening to sled dogs howl across the lake and chuckling as a red fox darts in and out of the surrounding woods, near enough almost to touch.

And then, at about 1 a.m., just before we file into the bus that will return us to our warm hotel beds, a sinuous strand of green materializes in the sky above the teepees. It's not a jaw-dropper and nobody's body resonates, but the thin cloud cover gives the lazy curls of light a hazy mystery of their own.

Smiles widen. Cameras appear.

"It's a really cold place and it's a far place and we need to pay a lot," says Mori.

"But we can forget normal life when we see it."

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