Sunday, October 31, 12021 HE
It’s the eve of the Celtic pagan harvest festival Samhain (a Gaelic word pronounced “SAH-win”). According to History.com, in the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints. As is typical of many Christian practices, to gain acceptance from the masses, All Saints Day incorporated some of the traditions of the pagan practices of Samhain. The evening before All Saints Day came to be known as All Hallows Eve and later became Halloween. Over time many of the traditions that we have come to know, like carving jack-o-lanterns, donning costumes, trick-or-treating, and eating treats, were added to the lore.
To listen to an account of how much of this came into existence, check out this episode of the podcast Throughline, The Dance of the Dead.
It was a stroke (pun intended) of good luck that on the eve, or perhaps more accurately morn, of All Hallows Eve there would be the possibility to view the atmospheric phenomenon of the Northern lights (aurora borealis). What better way to commemorate the pending change in season, the harvest, and the dead, than the spectacular spectacle of the Earth’s northern aurora.
A few weeks ago, I missed them. The Northern lights were visible from Vancouver on October 11. My father-in-law sent me a post about it, but it was after the fact. Fortunately, this time around, he gave me a tip-off again. This time it was in advance of the sighting.
But the predicted viewing time was ungodly, between 02:00 and 05:00. And it was by no means a sure-fire thing. Prediction of the arrival of a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) appears to be no easy feat.
Last year there was a similar event in Vancouver, and I tried to view it from Spanish Banks unsuccessfully. I figured this time was worth another attempt.
So, I set my alarm for 04:00 and prepared my gear for an early rise. I planned to paddle from Vanier Park public boat ramp to Slhx̱í7lsh (Standing Man Rock). From the photographs that I saw of the recent aurora in Vancouver, it seemed like it would be a good viewing point. I have been issued a ticket before at the Vanier Park Parking Lot. So, I was wary of parking there. Particularly since my credit card was recently compromised and cancelled, and I would not be able to remotely plug the meter when the lot rates would come into effect. Thus, I defaulted to parking on the street near Hadden Beach.
I was not the only one who was up early in hopes of catching the aurora. I could see lights down on Eric’s Beach when I arrived. And, as I made my way down to Hadden Beach, I noticed a group of people surrounding a small fire on the shore. In general, I was surprised by the number of people out and about at that time. I am not often out and about, so I was unsure if these were the regular morning twilight crew or one-off aurora viewers like myself. I turned on my headlight and my camera to record and launched. The camera on my board would also serve as a taillight as the touchscreen was subtlety illuminated.
I made my way across English Bay toward English Bay Beach and then up the shoreline heading toward Slhx̱í7lsh (Standing Man Rock). It was dark on the water, and initially, it was a bit nerve-racking. There is something about not being able to see the water clearly that makes it scarier. That fact, combined with my internal monologue about what the heck was I doing on the water at 05:00 in the dark of night, and the perceived judgement I assumed from anyone who witnessed me on the water and wondered the same thing, had me on edge.
I tried to focus on paddling, my surroundings, the night sky, and my destination to calm my thoughts. At the same time, it was incredibly serene to be on the water in the dark. The water was calm, and outside of some small consistent waves approaching from the north-northwest, there was no other traffic on the water to disrupt its natural state.
The tide was lowering, and as I made my way past Second Beach, some of the outcropped rocks near Ferguson Point came into view. I gave them a wide birth and scanned the waterline for turbulence on the surface, indicating underwater formations. Thankfully, I managed to stay clear of any subsurface board encounters.
The view westward out toward Point Grey and the Strait of Georgia was much less luminous. With the scattered ships lighting the waterline of Səl̓ilw̓ət (Burrard Inlet).
There was more light northward toward the western part of the North Shore. But no sign of the northern lights.
To the northeast, there was a faint glimmer on the horizon. I tried to convince myself that it was a pale amount of the aurora. But I was quite sure that it was background light coming from North Vancouver over the top of the tip of the Stanley Park peninsula at Prospect Point. The image below shows the faint glow of light over the Prospect Point on the right, with the North Shore Mountains in the background.
Despite not seeing the aurora, it was still a pleasant paddle. The lights of the city were still a spectacle of awe. And the clear skies made for stellar stargazing. Though, the pictures I took were not able to capture the stars. It is hard to get enough light while steadily standing on a paddleboard when taking photographs in the dark of night. I was able to spot Polaris (the North Star) and the Little and the Big Dipper. I had an eye out for Andromeda, but I wasn’t able to locate the constellation. Perhaps I will have better luck on a future experimental voyage.
Below is Vancouver’s West End from the water, with the bridges and lights of False Creek visible to the right of the centre in the image.
I now have downloaded My Aurora Forecast for any future possibilities to view the aurora. For the record, the app did not predict that I was going to see the aurora. But, I choose not to heed its prediction and go in search anyways. Below is a screenshot from the app showing the viewing possibility at 07:51. It looks like I just missed it for the timing of daylight and my paddle.