As I accelerated to 130 km/h, with windows down and Atmosphere in speakers, the haze on the horizon was already visible. A pillar of smoke billowed forth from beyond the foothills, as if I was at Mordor’s doorstep. It was my third consecutive year rolling through picturesque southern Alberta en route to Shambhala, but this year there was a chill, despite the 32 degree heat.
When Highway 2 became Highway 3, the smoke got thicker and the conversation with my fellow traveler waned. His video camera was rolling while I was trying to wrap my head around the devastation.
It was humbling. As a culture we see ourselves as invincible, curing every disease conceivable, sacrificing any and every aspect of the natural world in the name of progress, cloning or genetically modifying anything that will make our lives bigger, better and more convenient. And here we are, cowering, helpless in the face of nature.
I must admit to taking some amount of pleasure from this, seeing it as nature’s way of letting us all know who’s boss.
But the fires weren’t all nature’s doing. Many were the result of the ignorance, arrogance and idiocy of you, of me, of all of us. Somehow that only made it seem more fitting that we cowered, so helpless and powerless before them. They are our lives, recoiling against us.
Sadly, we aren’t likely to take anything out of this tragedy. We’ll focus on more efficient ways to put fires out rather than on ways to prevent them. Reaction is the order of the day; prevention, apparently, takes too much work.
As these thoughts swirled about, Cranbrook gave way to Creston gave way to Salmo and I realized: "I’m here."
At long last, after a journey lamenting subconscious human self-destruction I arrived at the one place where I could celebrate the beauty of both nature and humanity.
There were people to see and places to be, but I stood there, transfixed. It was the last night of the greatest weekend of summer: Shambhala.
I was in the middle of nowhere, a valley in the Kootenays, with some of my closest friends, but they made it seem secondary. Never before have I felt so at one with nature as I did then and there, completely awestruck.
Such is the power of aurora borealis, the Northern Lights.
My annual pilgrimage to the slice of heaven just south of Salmo, British Columbia never fails to yield some of my most beautiful and gripping memories. It has forged some of my closest friendships and my experiences there often give me the strength to follow my dreams regardless of logic or any other hindrances. But I have never been as moved, I have never been as gripped, as I was that Sunday. It’s no exaggeration when I tell you it was one of the greatest moments of my life.
After a weekend where afternoons were spent lounging in camping chairs plunked in the cooling currents of the Salmo River, and evenings spent on epic quests with the greatest of friends, this unmatched natural phenomenon stood out from it all. And why not? It embodies the freedom, the beauty, the majesty and the timelessness we spend our lives seeking.
When the dinosaurs were kings of this planet, they simply needed to gaze skyward in the right place at the right time to watch the ever-shifting emerald light dance across the sky.
When early man trekked across the Bering Land Bridge, slowly making his way from Siberia to the Pacific coastline of North America, he no doubt marveled at the majesty of the nocturnal elegance and grace.
Even now, as thousands of road-weary souls escape the streetlights, concrete and other trappings of our urban existence, they dance their dance overhead, making us realize that we are no different than them, that we too are miracles of nature, to be marveled at and cherished.
As we vanish into the wilderness for a few stolen moments, aurora borealis makes it so mystically and joyfully clear that the key is neither time, nor place but perspective and understanding.
Once again, I returned home from those four magical days in the valley with the greatest gift of all, peace of mind. Every year, without fail, it is there that I find the answers to a thousand questions I would have never thought to ask.