The Beauty Of Yukon’s Winter

Discovering the gifts within these short days

Early winter in the Yukon is a special time of year, and yet it can also be a very bleak time of year. The shorter days feel dreary, and the long nights can weigh on you like an overly heavy blanket. Many go to work in the dark and return home in the dark. It’s difficult to not be affected by the lack of sunlight, and even those of us who enjoy hibernation can start to fall into a gloomy mood. Compounding the effect of the shortening days is the fact that the extra moisture in the air from the rivers and lakes that haven’t frozen completely leads to a cloak of fog that envelopes many parts of the Yukon in November and December; and so, even during the few fleeting hours of daylight that we have, it’s often impossible to see the sun. We may wistfully begin to yearn for the brighter, colder days of January and February and the blue skies they bring.

However, there’s also something magical about the beginning of winter. It often reminds me of the excitement and wonder I felt as a child. The joy of waking up to the first snowfall, although dampened a bit by the responsibilities of adulthood, can still feel like a beautiful gift. The ice crystals and hoar frost that form on the trees, during especially moist and chilly evenings, can look like nature’s early Christmas decorations in the morning sunlight. The first few months of winter are a time filled with magical phenomena, if we’re willing to see and witness them.

One of my favourite mysterious wonders of this time of year begins when the lake near my home freezes over. As the ice thickens and grows on the water’s surface and the tension increases with extreme cold periods and the increasing weight of snow on top, the most marvellous sounds begin to arise from within the depths of the lake. If you’ve never had the opportunity to hear these sounds, a young Swedish YouTuber, Jonna Jinton, has posted many hours of raw ice sounds on her YouTube channel, which she recorded near her home in northern Sweden. It’s sound that can travel great distances, but the most intense “ice concerts” can be experienced standing on the lake itself when you can feel the vibrations coming through the ice and the sounds seem to come from all around you. Some might call it an eerie sound, but to me it’s a reminder that there is so much more going on around us than what we usually realize, and it feels almost as if the spirit of the lake is trying to communicate with us. The North in wintertime can seem empty when you look at it from an airplane window or while driving along the highway, but that’s far from the truth.

A similarly extraordinary occurrence is the appearance of the northern lights in the night sky and, if you’re lucky and quiet enough, you may even hear another kind of almost ghostly sound. Some have described it like a static or a hissing sound, with the occasional pop or snap. Not much scientific research has been done about auroral sounds, even though people all over the North have reported hearing sounds accompanying the aurora borealis since time immemorial. An acoustic engineer in Finland was able to make a recording, a few years ago, but it doesn’t really do justice to the experience of standing under a dancing sky and hearing the almost-imperceptible sounds that the lights seem to emit.

Maybe it’s the darkness and the short days that make these things seem so magical. Maybe they can act as reminders that nothing in life is only one thing. The bleakest of days can hold lessons or something beautiful to witness. As I sit here and write these final words, the sun has come up and is slanting through the fog, hitting the thick white hoar frost on the trees outside my window. It looks as if a layer of icing sugar was poured over their branches during the night. The lake still has a few open ice-free patches, but I already look forward to the coming weeks when the ice will begin to grow and thicken and sing. We may not get many sunny days between now and the new year, but there are so many other marvels of nature and wintertime to enjoy.

It can take some extra motivation to get outside right now. An excuse or two can always be found to stay inside where it’s warm and comfortable. But if you can muster up the energy to take that walk after dinner or go out on a grey and chilly morning, you may very well be rewarded with not only a feeling of accomplishment but also the possibility of witnessing some of the beauty and the mystery of a Yukon winter, a gift that will be solely yours.

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