It’s almost Christmas and all the carols about dashing through the snow, white Christmas, and let it snow might make you think about the North Pole. Well, me too. Which is why I am writing this from above the Arctic Circle in Abisko, Sweden—the closest to the North Pole I’ve ever been. Okay, so I didn’t come here because of snow or Christmas, but I did come hunting the northern lights.
Here in Lapland, the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon for two and half months. Now, just a week before the solstice, the polar light is special: blue, white, and gray all combined into an infinite number of hues. It gets light around 9 AM and is dark at 2 PM. But the dogs and the people don’t seem to mind. Activities go on regardless, headlamps with red light the norm (so as not to disturb the night vision so essential to seeing the aurora).
As for the aurora, they call it aurora hunting for the same reason they call it fishing instead of catching. It is the action of looking, researching solar flare data, looking at weather data for clear skies, and looking some more. Standing outside in temperatures in the teens, staring at the sky, talking with fellow hunters about the data, their lives and the miracle of coming together in such strange circumstances. Most nights, the hunt began around 10 PM and, when it was clear, lasted until 4 AM. Didn’t matter if you were seeing anything…you stayed outside just in case. Sometimes there is a storm and the aurora is like you see in the photos that are posted on the websites…but most times it is a crap shoot. And then you might, if you are lucky, and the skies are clear, and the ions are hitting the earth at the right angles with the right density, well then, you might see something like this.
This photo looks like it is midday, but in fact, it was taken at about 10 PM. In order to capture the aurora, a long exposure is necessary on the camera. So the sky looks blue, when in fact it was pitch dark. But we quickly learned to use the camera to confirm an aurora since it can see colors the naked eye cannot. For example, this photo has greens and reds, but what I saw was a smoky column that could have been from any smokestack or chimney, with a wisp of green on the bottom.
So although I didn’t see the magnificent display I had hoped to, I can honestly say I’ve seen the Northern Lights. But for me, the itch has not been scratched, so I suspect I will do more aurora hunting this year since it forecast to be one of the best years in the past decade and for the decade to come.
But to get back to Christmas, even though I wasn’t at the North Pole, I was close enough to see one of Santa’s reindeer, his velvet peeling off his antlers in anticipation of a long winter. And so I wish everyone a happy holiday indulging in whatever passion you have–as I have been able to do with this trip to the frozen north.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. May the New Year bring plenty of new adventures.