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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
In my quest to see the Northern Lights, I started off the year 2015 by visiting Ivalo, a little village in the Lapland region of Finland with a population of about 4000 people. Lapland is the northernmost region of Finland and is situated in the Arctic Circle, a part of the world where the sun remains below the horizon for a lengthy amount of time in the winter. When I visited two years ago, the sun had last set on December 3rd, 2014 and would not rise again until January 9th, 2015.
I was aware before arriving here that my four night stay in this town would be spent in polar night. I had also read that a certain amount of light filters through around noon during the ‘civil twilight’ hour. (In fact, many places within the Arctic Circle experience more twilight hours than equatorial regions.) Yet, it took me quite by surprise when I opened my curtains at 10am and saw just how ‘light’ it actually was outside. It seemed like just another grey, overcast winter’s day. I wasn’t going to be living in pitch blackness like I’d imagined after all.
It just goes to show you can never quite know what to expect of certain things until you experience them for yourself!
Yesterday marked two years since I saw the Northern Lights for the first time. I remember it was about 5pm when one of the staff at the guesthouse where I was staying knocked on my door to inform me the lights were putting on a show. I’d been working on my laptop and was somewhat surprised by the early display- not that I was complaining! I quickly got dressed in my layers and rushed outside, camera in hand, ready to capture the magic- only to discover I’d left my memory card in my laptop. Hence, I have no photos of the spectacular sky that night, though the dancing heavens left such an imprint on my mind that the memory of it will never fade regardless.
The next day was very cold but the sky was clear- a promising sign for another light show that night. My wish was granted around 9pm, when a rippled green ribbon broke through the darkness and curled its way through the midnight sky. The display was a lot fainter than the previous night, the final remnants of a dying solar storm. Emerald wisps would glimmer and glow, then disappear to leave only whispered memories of magic and mystery. It was not a long display and though I kept a lookout for the next few hours, there was no encore performance.
Although this display was nowhere near as intense as my first aurora viewing, it was still beautiful in its own way. Indeed, this is part of the magic of the Northern Lights- you never quite know what you’re going to get. Plus this time, I’d been able to capture a few photos which I was very thankful for because, despite going on to continue my chase in Norway and Sweden afterwards, and then Iceland later in the year, the weather gods never granted me another viewing and I haven’t seen another aurora since this day.
The Northern Lights are the most beautiful and mysterious thing I will ever see in my life, and the only thing that could ever make me want to leave my bed and go outside on a -30 degree night. Many people regard them as a bucket list item, and rightly so, but for me, seeing them once, then twice, is not enough. Once you have seen them, a part of their magic stays with you forever and I dearly hope I will yet see them again one day.