A Lure of Light

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Today marks exactly two years since this photo was taken. I had just arrived back in Perth, after having spent 19 days travelling across the Arctic regions of Scandinavia in search of the magical Northern Lights. I was home, but my mind was still halfway across the world, reliving an epic journey that had spanned 39,608km.

I had been lucky enough to see the Northern Lights twice, in Ivalo, but bad weather had prevented me from seeing any auroras in Tromso or Kiruna. My sojourns in those two places were characterised by clouds, rain and snow, so that the only colours I saw in the sky were varying shades of white and grey.

Whenever I took to the skies above these places and left the clutches of coldness behind, I was reminded that, although winter had shrouded the heavens in a thick blanket, at any given time only a few kilometres above our heads, there is always some sort of light shining steadfast in the sky. Whether it be from the sun, or the moon and the stars, or the dancing auroras of the polar circles, even if we cannot see them, they are there. Constants of the cosmos.

Once home, I did not have to worry about obscured skies anymore. I had returned smack bang in the middle of summer and was now guaranteed to see the sun each day, and a lot of it. In Europe, I’d missed the sun, but here it was no longer a pale golden orb that shone a fragile light over the snow (if, indeed, it surfaced at all). No, in Australia, in the middle of summer, the sun is a burning ball of fire that is best avoided in the peak of day. It is not until the late evening, when it begins its descent below the horizon, and a balmy sea breeze begins to blow from the coast, that it becomes pleasant to be outdoors. And on the evening of January 19, 2015, I was in for a real treat.

I had just gone outside to hang up some post holiday washing when the sight of this sky made me drop the washing and run inside to get my camera instead. Somehow, I had been transported back to the Arctic, because it felt like I was gazing not at a summer sunset, but at an alluring aurora. The way that vibrant pink haze spread across the violet sky, glowing brightly in the centre and wisping around the edges, before fading quietly into the night, was pure magic. I could even picture it dancing. It was a reminder that there is wonder and beauty all around us, and sometimes, we do not even have to travel beyond our own backyard to see it.

Pimp My Husky

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During my stay in Ivalo at the beginning of January 2015, I spent two nights at a wonderful place called Guesthouse Husky. Not surprisingly, the guesthouse offered husky safaris. I booked one to finish off my stay in Finland, excited for the opportunity to experience these amazing creatures in their element.

This particular snapshot was taken just before we commenced the husky ride, when I still had enough feeling in my hands to operate my camera. The husky dog’s expression in this photo always makes me laugh as he was such an energetic boy and kept jumping up and down, tail wagging wildly and howling to high heaven in his desire to get going. I managed to capture the exact moment he turned around to look at us, as if saying what are we still doing here, come on, let’s GO!!!

It was an unforgettable experience, and not only in the sense that it turned out to be the coldest I’ve ever been in my life. I’m glad, though, that I braved the freezing temperature of close to minus forty degrees so that I could see these huskies in action. It gave me a newfound respect for these friendly dogs which, as a team, could easily run distances of over 60km at a consistent speed of about 20km/h. Now that is what you call endurance!

Field of Memories

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This is one of my favourite places in the world. It may seem unremarkable, as far as majestic views of the world go, but this simple field in a little country town in central Poland is special to me because it is where half of my personal history begins. These are the fields that my mum walked and played and worked on as a child. A part of my identity is as rooted in this place as the trees growing on the horizon.

I was 11 years old when I first stood on these fields with my own two feet. They seemed to stretch forever and to reach the line of trees in the distance seemed like the ultimate adventure. Never did the world seem bigger, and the memory of the impression these meadows made on me remains strong to this day, even if the distance to the trees seems to have diminished.

It is inevitable that life changes and time marches on. But whenever I stand in that field and look to the horizon, I travel back in time and memory to a carefree summer in 1998, where we picked berries sweetened by the sun and took lazy walks down to the river and went on bumpy tractor rides and zoomed around on the back of my uncle’s motorbike and made potato people and ate the tastiest tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches. To this day, I only ever eat tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches when I’m in Poland. They just don’t taste the same back home.

The older I get, the more I cherish those places I can visit and be reminded of the simple memories of an uncomplicated life. There is a great peace in knowing that some things remain unchanged, even by the passing years.

A World Painted White

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The last place I visited on my quest to see the Northern Lights in the European winter of 2015 was the Swedish town of Kiruna. When I touched down on the 15th of January, the sun had emerged from hibernation and the snow was aglow with a soft pastel light.

Although polar night was officially over, the next day dawned with an overcast sky. It did not bode well for aurora viewing and indeed, I did not end up seeing any lights dancing over Kiruna. Luckily for me, there was still magic in the air.

This was the view that greeted me when I ventured for a walk from my cabin at Camp Ripan. Five minutes down the path and I felt like I was the only person on earth. The world was still and silent, save for the satisfying crunch of snow under my feet.

Kiruna felt like a winter wonderland, moreso than any other polar town I visited (except perhaps for Saariselka in Finland, too). The magic was in the trees. They had not been exposed by the elements and stripped bare, left to sway like skeletons in the bitter Arctic winds. Rather, these trees wore the weight of the snowy weather like an insulated coat, until it was time to feel the warmth of the sun once more.

This type of winter is the stuff of childhood dreams. I could very well have been in Narnia, lost in a land encaptured in the midst of winter’s spell. But there was no White Witch at work here. The snow that fell around me was a gentle and pure form of magic, painting the world afresh in the cleanest shade of white. Perhaps somewhere amongst these fairytale trees, all the secrets of the world lay hidden.

A Game of Chasey

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My quest to see the Northern Lights in January 2015 began in Ivalo, where I was lucky enough to see them twice, and continued in Tromso, an Arctic city in northern Norway. Unfortunately, my three day visit was a cloudy, snowy, rainy and blustery affair which prevented any colourful night skies from being visible.

I flew back to Oslo, my quest of seeing the Northern Lights in Norway unfulfilled, but compensated, somewhat, by the absolutely spectacular landscapes unfolding below me. I was flying in the early afternoon for a change and as soon as we ascended above the clouds blanketing Tromso, I was greeted by a vast expanse of relatively clear blue skies once more.

One particular sight captivated me the most. I found it stunning in its simplicity. A divided line of light on the horizon, perfectly balanced between the golden glow of day and the oncoming shadow of night. Darkness would have already fallen on Tromso by this point, as it was still in the clutches of polar night. Looking behind me, a deep violet glow was spreading across the clouds. Slowly, it was creeping its way forward to extinguish the last rays of sunlight still shining over Oslo.

As it turned out, a thick blanket of clouds on our descent meant there was probably no sunset visible in Oslo that afternoon either. But up in the heavens, it was a different story. Day and Night are always running to new corners of the earth, always chasing after one another but never quite able to catch up to each other.

The Pink Shadow

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It was twilight time when I arrived at my new accommodation just outside of Ivalo village on January 4th, 2015. I had two nights booked at a family-run property by the name of Guesthouse Husky. True to its name, there were about 150 huskies on the property. Being a dog lover, this was my idea of heaven and it turned out to be a fantastic stay.

About 1pm, I decided to brave the elements so I could meet some of the adorable husky puppies yapping playfully outside my room. Considering visibility was excellent, the temperature was not unbearable and I needed some exercise, I continued to walk around the property, shortly coming across a snowy road leading to my favourite sort of place- the unknown.

Wandering amongst the vast expanse of uninhabited forest, my attention was soon drawn to the horizon, where a faint, dusty pink light seemed to be kissing the tops of the trees. Seeing this hint of colour was a pleasant surprise and I quickly set off down the road, hoping to glimpse more at the bend. It felt like I was chasing an elusive fading shadow and this snapshot was the best I could manage.

Afterwards, I just stood in the middle of the road for a while to appreciate the stillness and silence. Occasionally, a slight wind would echo through the forest, brushing snow off the trees and sending it adrift in the air.

This is a land of extremes, the border of one of the great wildernesses of the world. Yet the pale light of twilight also made it feel fragile and new. I felt that if I waited long enough, that dusty haze on the horizon would turn into fire. In reality, the day never did quite dawn. It faded before it had ever truly begun. Perhaps it is why this corner of the earth still feels so unspoiled. Long may it stay that way.

The Twilight Hour(s) [Part 2]

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It took me 40 hours to get to Ivalo, Finland. The journey started on New Year’s Day 2015 and involved four flights, including a six and a half hour flight from Abu Dhabi to Berlin seated next to the worst passenger I’d ever encountered in over a decade of flying.

When I finally got to my accommodation, I was exhausted beyond measure. I have no trouble sleeping on planes but I hadn’t been able to rest much at all this time around. (Being seated next to the Worst.Passenger.Ever obviously didn’t help.)

It’s safe to say stretching out in my bed at Hotelli Ivalo was the most glorious feeling ever and I had an epic 13 hour sleep. When I woke up at 9.45am on January 3rd, I was surprised that the world outside my window was nowhere near as dark as I’d anticipated it would be, given the sun would not be rising for another six days.

I had no grand plans to do anything that day and actually ended up just relaxing in my room and observing the twilight hours. Having just come from Perth, where we were in the middle of summer and experiencing 14 hours of sunlight a day, it was a very interesting ‘day’ adjusting to the phenomenon of polar night.

This particular collage shows the progression of twilight into night. The top picture, looking out over the frozen Ivalo River, was taken around 12.30pm, the ‘lightest’ time of the day. The smaller pictures were taken at 2pm, 3pm and 4pm. As you can see, by about 3pm, it was pretty much back to black.

All in all, there were a solid four hours where there was enough light to ensure you didn’t feel as though you’d spent the whole ‘day’ in perpetual darkness. Just enough to prevent cabin fever, I’d say 😛