Slim touched the Northern Lights

by Glenn Taylor
Northern News Services

INUVIK (Aug 15/97) - Slim Semmler still gets wide-eyed when he talks about the time the Northern Lights touched him.

"Scientists say the Northern Lights never touch the ground, but I've seen them, and I know they do," said Slim during a recent visit with the Drum. "I was inside 'em."

Slim has told me this story twice now, the first time last year while recounting how a dog-sled anchor once saved his life.

He remembered telling me the story then, and mildly scolded me for not printing it. He retold the story again two weeks ago, and I promised that this time I'd print his amazing story.

The first thing Slim told me was to ignore everything scientists claim about the Northern Lights. He knows better, he said, and noted there's much more to learn about the mysterious dancing blankets of light.

More than 60 years ago, Slim was working his trapline near Cape Krusenstern, on the coast and many kilometres west of present day Coppermine.

The Northern Lights, he said, were impressive that day, waving in the wind and providing spectacular entertainment for Slim and his howling dog team.

Slim and his team were travelling on a low point, and had to cross over a hill to get to the next trap on the line. After climbing the hill, Slim said he suddenly saw the Northern Lights, directly in front of him. More than that, as his team travelled forward he found himself surrounding by the rainbow waves.

"We were actually inside the Northern Lights," said Slim, who grew excited at the memory. Suddenly, his dogs started howling in fear. The lead dogs began climbing over other members of the team, crouching as they scrabbled over the hard-packed snow and away from the ghostly lights.

Slim also noticed a sizzling noise in the air, like grease frying. When he looked down, he noticed that the hard snow around him was shimmering and moving off the ground, as if being blown by a divine wind. But there was no wind in the air that he could feel.

Slim thought at first that the lights were "cooking" the snow. "I reached down and touched it, thinking it would be hot," said Slim. "But it wasn't. It was cold, but the lights seemed to be moving the snow around me, making it shimmer."

Slim's team was panicking and howling, but he managed to move them off the hill to lower ground, and out of the Northern Lights. "The team and I were all right, but the lead dogs kept shaking their heads, as if something had got inside their heads. We couldn't get going for a few minutes because the dogs couldn't seem to get their thinking in order."

Slim was afraid the lights might have hurt the dogs, but after a while they seemed to recover, although it took hours before they returned completely to normal. "It didn't hurt them and they were OK later, but they were acting real goofy," he said.

Slim said it was an experience of a lifetime, being caught in the Northern Lights like that. He said he heard years later that a Holman trapper had the same experience.

What are the Northern Lights, then? I asked him. Slim said he doesn't know for sure. But he believes that lights might caused by showers of solar energy from the sun, which travel to earth and reflect off the prisms created by snow crystals.

All he knows is, he was inside the lights, and he heard the sizzling.