My own Northern Lights experience…

On reading that the Aurora Borealis has recently been visible in the North of England and thus convincing myself that I have seen it over the roof of the shed, my memory started to whirr…

Seeing The Northern Lights is, I know, prime bucket list fodder and I consider myself very fortunate indeed that I have done so.

We were in Finland, kitted out in more layers than a politician’s conscience, with nary a single millimetre of flesh exposed to the kind of chill that is apt to snap off unprotected extremities.  We had, over the preceding few days, driven skidoos along frozen rivers, dog sleds through glacial forests and been tugged along vast expanses of what a paucity of geographical knowledge allows me only to call frozen tundra (e.g. wherever you looked – up, down, round and across – was white) by reindeers who delivered us to the mouth of a hide tent within which thin slices of their relatives were being slightly singed over an open fire and served with warm Ribena.

We also climbed a mountain – probably a forested hill if you’re being pedantic – with tennis rackets on our feet which worked perfectly well as long as we kept to the path.  One step to either side, however, found you buried up to the chest in a sarcophagus of snow that would just not let go.  It was a long trek, punctuated by brief spells of pulling/being pulled out of the white powder quagmire and at the summit we sat, again around the obligatory campfire, scanning the heavens, waiting for the lights to arrive.  They did not.

In Finland, I am aware, that even in sufficient clothing to double your mass, even in front of a roaring fire, even having drunk the obligatory glass of lukewarm blackcurrant cordial, it is unwise to remain still for more than a few minutes and so, it wasn’t long before our whole little cryo-snake began to meander its way back down again.  The journey was a strangely spiritual and bonding one, despite the absence of lights in the sky.

Back at the hotel – via the usual breakneck bus journey – we spent the habitual three hours divesting ourselves of our outer layers before eating dinner accompanied by a single beer costing little more than the price of a bungalow in the Algarve and heading to our room at which point we became aware of an unusual ‘buzz’ about the hotel: The Lights were out.  We threw on a couple of dozen layers of clothing – too few as it turns out – and waddled outside and into the bottomless darkness that is the surface of a frozen Finnish lake in the middle of the night, to watch the show.

The Northern Lights – at least in my experience – is a more visceral phenomenon than a visual one: more of a swirling, back-lit, celestial mist than a firework display (the bright colours, it transpires, are only really witnessed through the camera lens – which also reveals that, despite how it feels, you are not alone) but the affect upon the soul, when witnessed against the backdrop of a billion needle-bright stars, is more uplifting than GCSE English allows me to express.  Until the cold kicks in – which it does quite quickly when you have rushed out underprepared – and becomes impossible to ignore.  The gap between ‘It’s a bit chilly’ and ‘I think I might just have lost a finger’ is short, and pretty soon you find yourself joining the fast-assembling penguin-trail back to the hot chocolate, feeling exactly like a 60 year old man who has just experienced something that, though not at all as he had expected, rather like the comfort of a thermal-lined, base layer gusset, is something he will never forget…

…and then I remembered that we have solar lights on the back of the shed…


15 thoughts on “Aurora

  1. Celestial events are definitely bucket-list worthy. Periodically we are supposed to be able to get a glimpse of the aurora but inevitably cloud arrives. When I first came here there was a lunar eclipse that saw me outside in -16 (warm compared to your Finland experience I realise). I have a creaky neck so staring up is not the best thing for me to do and my fingers protested savagely, but I watched the whole event and it was special. The dark, the cold, the silence that is never really silent. Or maybe it’s that I have always had a ‘thing’ about the moon. I never tire of looking at the sky, day or night.

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  2. WE don’t often see it in Cornwall –OK, we’ve NEVER seen it down here, so like you, I suspect an extremities-threatening trip north may be in order some day. I’ll should start saving up for a beer now by the sounds of it though.

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