Lofoten Islands · Norway
Oh, what a night...
Although the Babe Ruth of Northern Lights known as Stian Klo ultimately called his shot here, I didn't really believe him earlier in the day when he said we had a chance for a spectacular display that evening. Not that I actually doubted his prowess in predicting auroras for us...especially not with his accomplice Arild Heitmann lending us his expert assistance from three hours to the north by way of cell phone...it's just that I have a preternatural knack for defying the atmospheric gods and bringing storm clouds to a forecast calling for sunshine and blue skies. And on the last night of seven in Lofoten, it seemed a bit too much to ask for one more dazzling nighttime light show, didn’t it? I just felt bad that I’d be taking my seven other tripmates down with me.
And so, plenty gassed after 7 restless nights in Norway with a head cold and sucking wind on a late-day hike up nearby Mannen Mountain (the rightmost peak in the image here), I soaked up the sweeping views of adjacent beaches, mountains, and fjords for all they were worth before heading back down with the lowest of expectations to Haukland Beach, where most of the others had been scouring for potential compositions in case the Northern Lights did actually come.
On return Stian informed us that we'd try things out at Vik Beach instead, one tract of sand and rock over to the south. Arild had informed him that the disco was coming, and we should get nice and dolled up and ready to dance (I prayed to God he was speaking metaphorically…). I looked at the utterly featureless sky and wasn’t compelled to budge one iota from my cynicism, though.
We got to Vik and Stian encouraged us to scout the area in anticipation of the light show to come. Dutifully (if unbelievingly), I donned my headlamp and went rock-hopping, taking care not to place too much faith in the untrustworthy rocks that looked far less slippery than they were...after all, I’d already taken a tumble at Utakleiv Beach in which my camera fortunately fared better than I did. After noting a spot with good potential featuring a small reflecting tidal pool, I glanced back towards the van and wondered why everyone remained clustered there. Perhaps my own skepticism about the night’s prospects was exceeded by theirs...?
I returned to the van and gobbled down a snack bar. Eagle-eyed (or hallucinatory--we were about to find out) Tyler Hamilton thought he spotted some faint light off on the northern horizon: “I think I might be seeing something...”
“Fire off a quickie to be sure?” I suggested (“quickie” referring to a shot with the camera, you dirty minds…).
Tyler obliged, and sure enough the horizon glowed faintly in plasma green on the back of his camera. He rushed to tell the others, and the troops scrambled and scattered like kittens fleeing a vacuum cleaner. I found my spot on the rocky shore again and set up my tripod and camera...the rest traipsed around with their headlamps shining here and there, and every now and then I’d see a sudden jolt in the trajectory of a light beam signaling someone’s flirtation with disaster. Fortunately I think only one of these stumbles resulted in a genuine fall, with no injuries incurred other than perhaps a little bruised pride (Tommy Simonsen’s ‘accidental’ drop of his wide-angle lens doesn’t count…Hello, Upgrade Time!). :D
I had a pretty nice composition laid out with the reflecting pool I’d scouted out earlier, looking a bit to the right of this composition with a saddle between Mannen and the adjacent peak that nicely cradled some of the soft green curtains that were developing. But within a few minutes, the show intensified...first emanating as a few flares behind the peak nearest and behind us even further to the right before they began to fully arc and dance across the night sky above us all the way to the opposite point on the horizon. And there we stood...or sat...or stumbled for another hour or more...oohing and aahing like Lilliputians trapped in a plasma globe, incredulous expletives unavoidably escaping every now then in response to the fluctuating intensity of the light show.
Despite my mesmerization and ongoing attempts to photograph the wild phenomenon, I had a dawning awareness that I didn’t quite have the little reflecting pool all to myself anymore. I shook off the rising tide of hypnosis and realized that, among a couple of other tripmates, Stian had stealthily taken up residence ninja-style to my right, his camera set up so swiftly and silently that he was tripping the shutter before I could even nail down the focus on my camera. And if you’re not familiar with his work, this is akin to Placido Domingo stumbling into your karaoke bar. What can you do but give him the stage??
But speaking to the measure of his character and camaraderie, Stian made sure he was never horning in on my shots, repeatedly asking if he was ever in my way. And after repeatedly assuring him that he was not, he was off to compose another masterpiece as swiftly and silently as he’d sauntered in beside me.
Eventually the miraculous grand finale of a light show began to fade, and with it the adrenaline that had sustained me through seven days and nights of infrequent and fragmented slumber. And suddenly, a wordless whisper steeped through my every cell, the message undeniable:
You are getting sleepy…