Today I'm excited to share another post from a contributor and photographer. I met Craig R. Allen at a party in our small town outside of Stockholm. He's an Englishman living in Stockholm with his girlfriend; about a year ago he sold everything he had to follow his dream of exploring the world--and taking phenomenal photographs of it. (He also took the photo of me over there in the sidebar →). If I'm lucky, he will continue sharing his gorgeous photographs here on Dear Sabrina.
Imagine the late eighties: I had spiky hair and probably a shell suit. I lived in the countryside in the UK midlands. When riding my bike home late one night, I saw very faint colors in the sky. I stopped for a while to look. I figured it must be the northern lights, but wasn’t sure. The northern lights aren't a common sight in the UK, so it seemed unlikely.
When I got home and the following conversation took place. (Names changed to protect the innocent).
Younger me: “I’ve seen colours in the sky, greens and reds, it was cool,” I say excitedly.
Father: "Have you been taking drugs?”
Younger me: “No! The sky was green and red and slowly changing."
My father continued to look at me like I was crazy. I walked away from the encounter deflated, but still wanting to know what it was I had seen.
Watching the news the next day confirmed that I wasn't crazy: what I had seen was the northern lights being reflected by ice in the atmosphere. I had seen them, very faint and nearly imperceptible. But from that moment I knew that I needed to see them for real at some point in my life.
Like a lot of people I have a “to do” list--what some might call a bucket list. Since setting out on my journey a year ago to explore the world, I have managed to tick quite a few things off my list; but seeing the northern lights managed to elude me last winter. I’ve been staying in Stockholm recently and have kept an eye on the aurora forecast, because occasionally the phenomenon can be seen from the city. After only a couple of days of checking, I was thrilled to see that a big display was anticipated one night in early October. It was a going to be a big storm and the lights should be visible from Stockholm with no problem.
However, there was an issue: it was cloudy in Stockholm. I needed a plan.
One quick visit to Budget rental and one little car hire later, and I was on the road heading north out of the city. I had checked the weather to see that the clouds would clear by the time I reached central Sweden. So my plan was to head into the heart of Sweden and just look up until I could see the stars. It was nearly a full moon as well.
Low and behold, after about three hours and a couple hundred kilometers of driving, I came out from under the clouds and saw not only stars, but the northern lights, hanging majestically in the sky. I was as excited as a kid at Christmas and nearly speechless. Anyone who knows me knows that "speechless" is a word that doesn’t describe me too often. (Editors note: True. Very true.)
A green and red curtain of the aurora hung over my head, winding its way into the distance. I was elated. I just had to find a place to take some photos. A quick check of the map showed a lake nearby. Fifteen minutes later I arrived to an utterly perfect scene: thick Scandinavian pine forests, a serene lake with a surface like a mirror, a full moon hanging in the sky, and the aurora floating in the sky.
I set up by the lake to take photographs and watch the show. It was a cold night, -4 Celsius (that's 24 Fahrenheit for you North Americans). I managed to get some great photos before the aurora waned and the clouds covered the area again. I drove farther north, and found a hillside overlooking a valley and forest. At about 1am, the strength of the lights intensified and I was treated to a spectacular display. The whole sky throbbed in shades of green, red, and purple.
Was it worth driving for over 500 kilometers, staying awake until 6am, and standing in below freezing temperatures to see the show and get these photos? Absolutely. It was one of the most beautiful natural phenomena I have witnessed.
I cannot recommend highly enough making the effort to see the northern lights. Make no excuses--just go do it. The challenge is part of the fun.
Some fun facts about the Northern Lights:
- They happen all year round, but we can only see them when it is dark at night
- They make you incredibly happy when you see them for the first time (this one is an indisputable fact =)
- In 1859 there was a solar storm so big that people in Cuba could see the northern lights
- In Sweden, the aurora was often seen as a bearer of good news. Many of our Swedish forefathers believed the lights to be a gift from benevolent gods providing warmth and light in the form of a volcano in the north
- The Cree Indians thought that the aurora was part of the circle of life, and that the lights were the spirits of the dead who remained in the sky. They believed that the lights were spirits trying to communicate with those they had left behind on earth
- The aurora happen in a doughnut shaped pattern that covers Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Canada, Alaska and Russia. It does not actually cover the north pole under normal circumstances
- Aurora have also been seen on other planets, including Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, and our neighbor, Mars
- They are visible from space and the astronauts on the international space station often film them