The Aurora Borealis has long fascinated me. I love "otherworldly" landscapes and this one in the sky was something I wanted to see. But unlike, say, the red rock formations of the Southwest or tropical beaches in the Pacific, the Northern Lights may or may not be there when you go looking.
But you have to search anyway, right? I'd read that Scandinavia above the Arctic Circle has the lowest incidence of cloud cover and thus superior odds - you need clear skies to see the Aurora. Since that part of the world is much closer to England than to the US, I suggested to Robin that we include this quest as part of our sabbatical year, and he gladly agreed. We planned the trip for early February (during winter, when the night is long in the Arctic) to coincide with my 62nd birthday (Feb. 4th).
We left the arrangements to the travel agency. By the time I called in early December, they informed us "the solar storm activity is high this year so the Aurora is active and trips are popular. We are almost sold out." Nevertheless they offered us the last available 4-night excursion to Levi, Finland, at a resort specializing in Aurora-watching called Northern Lights Village. We booked it and flew on January 30th to Helsinki, then a connecting flight to Kittilä and a 30-minute van ride to Levi.
This place was wonderful. Their appeal is glass-roofed "igloo" cabins where you can watch for the Aurora all night long, even from your bed. To help keep you busy during the (short) days, they offer excursions by snowmobile, dog sled, and reindeer sleigh! We had fun with all these activities (outfitted in the snowsuits provided); especially the dog sledding where Robin got to "mush!" (But all those dogs want to do is RUN, so "driving" mostly means braking when necessary!) We also enjoyed learning about Lapland culture; plus the fireplace, comfortable lounge chairs, and excellent meals in the main lodge.
Disappointingly, the weather was overcast and snowy during our first 3 nights in Levi. An ill-conceived "heated sleigh" aurora-hunting excursion on Night #3 was futile. The forecast for our final night was "mostly cloudy." The clock turned past midnight on Sunday, Feb. 4th and we were in bed, resigned to the idea that "seeing the Northern Lights is going to take more than one attempt." Then, we started to see stars appear in our sky windows. Quite a few stars! Awake with hope, we continued to watch.
As the sky began to glimmer with sheets of light, we realized we had gotten lucky after all. We joined the other guests coming out of their cabins to gaze upward and enjoy the show. I loved standing there and taking it in. I had decided not to attempt photography of the lights (best done with a "real" camera and tripod) but just to enjoy the views.
Fortunately, a fellow guest shared his photos with us, and there were some nice ones!
I will tell you that the Aurora looks quite different to the naked eye than it does in pictures. In real life, I didn't perceive those bright colors. To my eyes, the lights appeared mostly white, with the faintest tinge of green at the edges. Harder to capture in photos is the movement - those lights do shimmer and dance! I could not have been happier or filled with greater wonder observing them.
So yes - bucket list item checked off and THANK YOU Mother Nature for the most awesome of birthday gifts! But is it over, or will I find an opportunity to see the Aurora again, perhaps for a more prolonged and colorful display? The journey continues.....
PS -- Happy Birthday to our niece Mia and grandson Sam, with whom I share the same birth date, 40 and 60 years apart 🎂.
Northern Lights (excerpt)
BY J. WEAVER JR.
The moon has gone to her bed tonight,
And all over the sky
She has hung out her garments of light
And now each shimmering veil--
Sea-greens and sapphires
Jeweled with orange fires--
Floats from the star she has pinned it to...