Friday, 22 March 2013

Tales of Northern Lights

Electric green light is dancing around my head.

Emerald wisps are weaving their way across the horizon, coiling and curving around the coast of Seltjarnarnes peninsula. It is cold, it is nearly midnight, and we have just walked for about 45 minutes out of Reykjavík. I can see my breath. My toes are numb, my hands frozen. The hip-flask of whiskey smuggled in my friend's trusty anorak makes an appearance and, after a few warming swigs, we trudge along the sandy beach towards the end of the coast. It is dark; there are no street-lamps, no houses, just the sounds of the sea and its spidery waves scuttling about our feet. I look up, and I actually can't believe what I'm seeing. It appears that we have been caught in an electrical storm of florescent lights bolting across the sky, before fizzling out by the shore. No my friends, I have not been abducted by aliens. But away from the street-lamps and car-lights of the bustling town centre, something magical is happening: the Northern Lights are out. 

I didn't take this photo myself (stupid camera),
but this is pretty much sums it up......
I've seen the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, once before; just a glimpse of green fuzz in the distance. But tonight, the lights are out in full force. The Northern Lights are something that anyone who visits Iceland in winter must try to experience: but you can never really predict them, and no two appearances will ever be the same. For those travelling to Iceland for the first time, just a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis is magical; in photographs the lights are still, but up close they dance and move and, if you are really lucky, rumour has it that they sing. Yet for Iceland's earliest settlers, only oral stories and legends about the mystical lights would have reached the ears of those sailing across the whale-road to Iceland. How on earth, then, did a little lone Viking in his longhouse one thousand years ago perceive such a magnificent light display? I like to imagine that our Viking friend believed the strange happenings in the sky to be the Norse gods rampaging about. It is not impossible to see how  - often the lights become tall and spiky, like Oðinn's spear, and at other times the sky tints red, as if blood has been spilled in Ásgarðr (Asgard). Perhaps Þórr (Thor) is angry and conjuring up an electrical storm? Maybe the large looming shapes are the frost-giants breaking free from Jotunheim and making war on the Æsir (Norse gods)? In fact, the strange figures in the sky really do look like great gods or ancestors fighting in the florescent fire-light. Stories of dragons and trolls, gods and giants come to life, as myth blends with the mysterious figures in the sky. I just can't believe what I'm seeing. All around the frozen sea-scape, a myriad of shapes are dancing and whirling, a smattering colour against the black-canvas sky. Iceland is alive, and the night is on fire.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful pictures, interesting information!

    Happy New Year