I have officially seen them. The Northern Lights. Between cloud cover, rain, and now lower-altitude snow that followed me up the coast to the island of Tromsø and Aurora's unpredictable nature, I was not optimistic. But six of us bright-eyed and bushy-tailed passengers from around the world boarded the small bus to take our chances. Roger, our skillful guide, was planning to take us about two hours inland to a known drier area, ready to chase the lights, and seemed confident we would find Aurora's hiding spot. For some reason on this frosty, dreary night, we believed him.
One of the main ingredients necessary for good Northern Lights viewing is darkness. Tromsø lies in the arctic circle and in the heart of the Aurora belt so if you can find as much darkness as possible, chances are you'll see something. Merge that with optimum viewing hours (a few hours before and after midnight) and a Fall/Winter season and you've practically bought a front row ticket. So we drove. Two lane roads. Utter darkness. Dense fog. Heat blasting in the bus. Roger provides commentary, background, and photo-taking tips on the Lights. All eyes are wishfully glued to the windows. One hour mark. Dense fog. Pitch black. Roger stops at a turn off and we all get out and peek at the sky. No good. Fading optimism. One and a half hour mark. Utter darkness. Roger stops at a turn off to get out and peek at the sky. Stars! Meaning the sky above might be opening up for us. Slightly more hopeful. Two hours. Pitch black. Temps around 30 degrees. Roger stops at a turn off. Not a soul around. I could see the headlines tomorrow: Naive tourists murdered by way of "Northern Lights Tour" scam! But we reached the best possible spot on this night. The stars are visible and the clouds have opened up (even if for a short while) with a view to the north. It's the best we're going to do. Time to bundle up, hop out of the bus, and wait.
After a few hot chocolates and lefse (a traditional, sugary, Norwegian flatbread dessert) in my belly with which Roger came smartly equipped, we followed our leader with much trepidation to some higher ground. Did I mention it was pitch black? We stumbled over the uneven terrain and trailed his voice. Toes starting to numb. Brown bears lurking? Roger stated we were now in somewhere that sounded like "Lula". He chuckled when clarifying that meant "middle of nowhere". There are never guarantees that Aurora will come out to play. But for Christ's sake, I was practically claiming to be banker and grabbing the top hat. I was praying she would throw me a bone. Then...
She did. Not with sharp color or rapid dancing across the sky that we often see or hear about, but hazy color that waltzed more than quick-stepped. It's like the sky was ripped open by this light trying to escape. At times like someone just punched a hole in the atmosphere and a wall of light came pouring out. The most often seen color, green, started plastering itself across the sky's canvas. Then shades of red, less often seen, started creeping into the scene. The color and shapes were constantly shifting and moving. Stronger, lighter. Enlarging, diminishing. My eyes started playing tricks on me through the constant stare. Which shapes were the clouds? Which were the night sky? And how did the Lights appear like daybreak? You could sit there all night and the Lights, in the right conditions, would constantly change. It was a spectacle.
In the cold, dark, damp, desolate night, I was warmed by and immensely grateful for the show we'd received. A standing O for Aurora. It was entirely worth the trek. And after a reflective drive back to Tromsø with a 2:00am return, I was out like a light.
Note: Pictures taken by guide Roger. Although quality and clarity are a bit compromised, they are surely better than what my iPad would have captured.