For a few years now I’ve been
nagging suggesting to my husband that we take a trip to Reykjavik or Norway or somewhere ‘Arctic’ to try to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. I’m fascinated by the phenomenon of charged particles and magnetism and magic that creates the wonderful light show; a kind of ‘waltzing waters’ in the sky.
But it’s not happened yet. And I was sure I had definitely never seen them. I would have remembered that, surely?
I’ve read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy and loved it. The first book – Northern Lights – especially. What a wonderful story. I nearly missed my stop on the train a few times for being so engrossed. I felt drawn to visit Svalbard (still do). I wanted to be Lyra.
And I’ve seen the film Eight Below (based on a true story) about the husky dogs that get left in the Antarctic because the weather is too bad to bring them home and they get up to all sorts of adventures with sea birds and an angry leopard seal. In one scene, the sky suddenly fills with colour and the aurora borealis (the Northern Lights) has come and the dogs bark and jump up and try to catch it or play with it. That was a tear-jerker film. But beautiful too.
Still I didn’t realise I’d already glimpsed the aurora myself.
I’m writing an entry to the Mslexia Memoir Competition and going through old notebooks to write about a specific period in my life (I know, I’m not famous, but everyone has a story to tell…)
And there is was, the night I saw the Northern Lights in Aviemore, Scotland, written in my own hand. Here’s the extract that will make up part of my entry:
We did journey after journey through the night. Moving house. A flitting. It was tiring but I liked the sense of adventure. I felt alive. We were moving some last things inside and an old man, a neighbour, had come out of his house and was staring at the sky in wonderment. We thought he was a crackpot and kind of nodded and carried on.
‘Don’t you know what that is? Look. LOOK!’
We stared at the sky, not understanding at all.
‘Once in a lifetime this is. It’s the aurora borealis!’
He became exasperated. In my naivety I had never heard of such a thing before; the luminous light show playing out its delicate rhythm right above my head. I didn’t know, couldn’t comprehend. At 22, it wasn’t on my radar at all. I stood with him a few moments and stared into the night. I’d missed the best of it I think. He was agitated both with excitement but frustration that I, we, didn’t share his amazement.
I was preoccupied instead with the darkness punctuated only by the fire, and of Sylvia Plath poetry. I wrote out long quotes from her work and fell under her spell, as if I too had hidden myself for a time under the floorboards of the world.
And I just typed up this post today, by chance, because I found the reference to it and I was writing about it. And then I just searched online for the best places to see the Northern Lights, only to find that perhaps, *tonight*, we might see it here in the UK. Synchronicity.