Finland - December 26, 2009
So one of my favorite quotes of all time is by Mary Anne Radmacher..."I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world"...that always seems to speak to me and I have thought of it many times when traveling...however, I don't think I ever really knew what it meant until tonight. After standing on a frozen lake surrounded by frozen forest in the isolated wilderness of Lappland, 300 kilometers North of the Arctic Circle, staring up at a sea of stars that seemed so close you could reach out and touch them and a half moon that was shining so brightly the reflection off the snow made the night seem almost like twilight...I am not the same. I have been fortunate in my life and have had many incredible experiences, but tonight really topped them all.
We set off on Snowmobiles in search of the Northern Lights. At first we drove fast along some planned tracks which meandered through the forest near town. In the winter, you are as likely to see a snowmobile parked in front of a building here as you are a car. Everyone seems to have one. Eventually we started cutting our own new tracks through the fresh forest powder, sometimes more than a foot deep. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. I was, literally, giggling and yahooing in my helmet.
Eventually we made our way to the frozen fells (hilly areas, often above the tree line). I have never seen a landscape like it before. The trees and plants were so totally covered in packed snow that not even a tiny glimpse of the actual tree or bush was visible. They looked like coral...in the light of the snowmobiles, they were white, sparkling, twinkling, magical snow coral. Sometimes we were cruising through eerie wide open space with one or two 'coral' bushes and sometimes we were cutting through an entire forest of it...making tracks so tight between the branches that they would hit off my helmet or, sadly, get crushed under a ski. It was other-worldly...in my helmet and arctic 'space' suit, I felt like I was traveling through another planet, like Pluto or some science fiction Superman ice land. Actually, it's funny that the only way I can think to describe the place is by conjuring fictional images..because this place is not fictional...it's just another part of the amazing Earth we live on...and it's incredible to me to think that only 4 weeks ago I was driving through the humid, lush green jungles of Africa...that is a completely different universe from this place.
After about an hour of driving we came to a frozen lake down in a valley where we parked the snowmobiles. Sadly the sky was cloudy so we weren't going to see any Northern Lights. The moon made a colorful ring of light in the clouds though and it was beautiful nonetheless. We all went inside a Sami tent structure called a Kota (the Sami are the indigenous people of Lappland) and drank tea around a fire. As we were starting to head back to the snowmobiles, I ducked out of the Kota a little early to see that the sky had cleared and the stars were out in full force. I walked back to the lake and enjoyed a few quiet minutes alone before being joined by the rest of the group (from Spain, the Netherlands and Japan). Then we headed back through the coral forest.
The night is still clear so, although the forecast says it is likely to be quiet, I still hope to see some Northern Lights tonight. That would really top off my magical night. Well, thanks for reading. I'm heading out to my igloo now. If you don't hear from me ever again, you can come pry my frozen body out of Igloo number 3 (start from the left and count three over) in Kakslauttanen Finland.