The hunt for the Aurora Borealis

We arrived in Tromso to rain. Unrelenting rain to be more accurate. As the snow began to melt and the promise of a winter wonderland began to fade, many tours were cancelled and both residents and tourists were miserable. Night after night dreams of catching the Green Lady dance across the sky were crushed as she remained resolutely hidden behind clouds, only showing a faint green hue to tell us she was around but did not want to play. There is something you must know about the Green Lady, there is a madness in her, the sort of madness that is contagious and incurable. The first time she allows you a glimpse, however faint, however hidden, the infection is immediate and unyielding. That first green glow in the sky floats down to your upturned, expectant face, moving first to whisper promise into your ears before settling on your skin, seeping through, finding its way into your blood, your heart, filling you with such wonder, such hope that you are convinced in her magic and driven by the vivid belief that she will dance for you. Your waking hours become consumed by the thought of her; the few short hours of light filled with the fervent hope that tonight you will see her, the darkness of the night with the bitter disappointment of unrequited desire. You grow angry at the temptress, at yourself for your foolishness, and then by morning you have forgiven her, disappointments forgotten in lieu of blind faith and hope in the magic.

The morning of the 20th of December I awoke with such disappointments forgotten, I awoke perhaps slightly jaded, my faith in the magic slightly shaken but after a day at sea, the fresh Arctic wind seemed to bring renewed hope. That night, after a detour off a road called the Northern Lights Route, I gazed up to the clearest sky I have seen since arriving in the Arctic and my heart was ablaze with hope so willful, so wild that I knew, I just knew, that there was magic in the air. More stars twinkled above, the night cleared even further and in a moment so quick, a pulse of white light traveled from the east to join the west, disappearing as it traveled through the sky. Before long, rainbow made of only white light arched above our heads connecting one mountain range to another. This, in itself,  was spectacular and I found myself in a vantage position having stretched out flat on the ground, my body warmed and cocooned by the reindeer skin beneath me.

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Before the start of the light show. Picture by Hannah (www.northernsouladventures.com)

The last thing I remember distinctly was the splitting of the white band above me. As if two lovers were torn apart, starlight fingers of the dark night sky within each band reached towards each other unwilling to be separated but powerless to the devastation of their union. As these lovers receded further away from each other, they continued to splinter and fragment in protest and at their furthest point away from each other, they formed giant flames of pale green. In a moment too quick to describe, a bright flash of green appeared in the sky and with an enthusiastic scream I found myself up on my feet with a catlike agility I have never possessed before. Great ribbons of green light filled the sky, unravelling to a crescendo, quivering and alive with music that we saw instead of heard. The ribbons turned, curved and danced, spiralling this way and then the next, drawing complex patterns and waves of strong focused green light with shadows of a lighter green punctuated with purple-ish pink light. A bright green bird, smooth rounded body flexed outward, wings outstretched and pulled back ready to push down and fly off. A seahorse, created by a spiral of light appears and disappears as the Green Lady begins to show off now. It is a dream, it cannot be real. The colours are too surreal, the movement too dramatic, a hallucination. The sky was filled with so much light and life that I barely knew where to look. The Green Lady has come out to play tonight and she is exuberantly joyful in her movements, hedonistically unbridled as she dances not for us, but for herself.

Nothing has prepared me for this moment, nothing I have read or seen even comes close. Even the most beautiful Northern Lights pictures are lifeless and uninspiring in comparison. My camera has been forgotten in the moment, I am too spellbound to do anything apart from scream with peals of joy and hug my husband far too tightly as we both jump up and down clinging to one another. I remember what our guide had said to us on the previous night that great Northern Lights make for great viewing instead of great pictures and I can understand why, the lights are too magnificent and fickle that you dare not look away even for a second.  I look to the rest of our group and realise how privileged I am to not only watch the Northern Lights but also to bear witness to the moment a long awaited dream has become a reality for most of them. Their faces are filled with wonder, an unspoken hunger sated and the air is charged with a magic that belongs to all of us.

I feel as though I owe our tour guide, Hannah (www.northernsouladventures.com), a great debt. We all loved her at that moment, perhaps we all loved each other at that moment too, as if each of us brought some sort of special magic that night that allowed us to be part of this great spectacular. I cannot credit Hannah for the lights but I can credit her for bringing us to clear skies, where the darkness of the forest allowed us uninterrupted views. I can credit Hannah for making sure that we were all well taken care off, for really understanding our needs and for revelling in the moment with a joy that was contagious. If you are ever in Tromso and if you can wrangle a space on their Northern Lights chase, I strongly suggest you do so! Some more pictures below from Hannah.

No story I tell about this night would ever be great enough, it is hard to imagine that any other moment in my travels will ever be this profound. To have finally seen the lights, the Green Lady dance, exceeded every expectation I had. I had asked myself why I had traveled half way across the world to brave the cold, the unrelenting darkness and the ridiculously priced beer to see lights in the sky. It seemed like a fool’s dream, to try and see nature’s most dramatic light show, the lights that had inspired myths and legends, the lights that lured travelers to the Arctic. It is only in the seeing the lights, when the darkest of an Arctic winter night has no choice but to surrender to the flaming light, a light so strong, so joyous that ignites your soul, that you understand why this is something you must do in your lifetime.

 

 

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