Gathered around a Norwegian campfire, 350km into the Arctic Circle, huddled from head to toe in exploration overalls and snow boots we had one of those life-affirming moments. Occasions when you really feel alive.
We only had to stare into the clear pinpricks of the Milky Way, spread across the night sky in a haze of primordial luminescence, whilst our tour mates clanked about with torches and cameras attempting to capture the faint Aurora Borealis in rolling hazy streams over our heads. You know, those moments.
The snap crackle and pop of flame licking autumn-dried brushwood, baked by a long windy summer. Sliding hotdogs onto claimed sticks in a barbaric echo of cavemen eons ago, all the while our homemade vegetable soup was shaken vigorously from a thermos, bringing us back to earth with a modern thump.
A shout went up near the end of our temporary campsite, another possible spotting of one of the worlds greatest natural phenomenon; the magnetic effect sunspots have on our Earth’s atmosphere, creating surreal plays of light and colour across Scandanavian skies.
The Aurora Borealis.
After hours of fruitless navigating through tumultuous rain clouds and pregnant winds, the only clear window of the evening finally braved our eager eyes. We had travelled for miles, not just that evening but from nations all over the world, hoping, praying for a glimpse of the nebulous Northern Lights.
To the east, a faint green glow began to spread across the sky. Our guides shouting to us in their hungry excitement as the heavens began to shift in a shimmery glaze. There we were, stood in the middle of an Arctic pasture, heads agog, necks protesting, as one of the Earth’s greatest spectacles unfolded before us. As the native Saami people phrase it, we witnessed “the fire lit by a bird, the Siberian Jay”.
Demure, but incredible nonetheless, we stood amidst the clicking, clanking and whirring of electrical equipment photographing the dancing colour, content to simply appreciate these astonishing moments. Not wishing to be kidnapped by the Lights, we kept our handkerchiefs safely stowed in pockets and whistling to a bare minimum – to avoid spoiling the Norwegians’ childhood ghost stories for future generations if nothing else.
Before we knew it, they retired back to their celestial homes.
We shuffled through the pitch black darkness to a Saami site where trade camps are pitched all summer long, to lay that fire and talk nonsense. No-one really spoke of the Lights, as if it was almost taboo. Our grinning hosts, one a gregarious Glaswegian, the other a no-nonsense Norwegian Mama whose brood seemed to include these ethereal flickerings, broke open a celebratory tin of Shortbread and Jaffa Cakes (“Aurora Jaffa Cakes” I was assured with a theatrical wink) and a wee dram of Whiskey to warm us from the tops of our heads, to the tips of our toes.
And that, that was how we experienced the Northern Lights in Tromso.