|Kristallwelten, Innsbruck, Austria|
22 December 2010
Hunting the light
When I arrived in Bergen after a week spent north of the arctic circle, I came back into true daylight, well at least for five hours or so a day - what luxury! As an Australian, I could only have imagined what almost continuous night-time would be like. I found the experience quite surreal. People not only get up and breakfast in the dark, but go about their work in the dark, kids are at school in the dark, and you start to think it must be dinner time at around three in the afternoon. Disconcerting to say the least.
So when I boarded one of the famed Hurtigruten ships - mine was called, somewhat inappropriately, Midnatsol (midnight sun) - I was intrigued to find that their winter cruising season had been branded "Hunting the light".
While this is a direct reference to the desire of guests to see the famed northern lights (or aurora borealis), I started to think more about the importance of light and its place in our sense of well-being. And in the middle of my first arctic winter, I really liked the notion of "hunting" for light and making the most of whatever light is available - or even creating a feeling of light.
In Scandinavia, there is no shortage of lighting in mid-winter! Every home is ablaze with Christmas lights in the windows (curtains are almost invariably left open, which of course makes you wonder about the cost of their energy bills). The extensive snow cover then magnifies, refracts and reflects any available light, giving it a sparkling, crystalline, fairy-garden appearance.
Almost without exception, the main reason people travel so far north in mid-winter is to see the elusive northern lights. In my case, they lived up to their "tricky lady" reputation - and remained out-of-sight from me, despite this being one of the best years for the lights.
Auroras are seen more frequently when the sun is active - increased solar wind provides the energy needed to send particles hurtling towards the earth, where they are steered under the influence of the earth's magnetic field and interact with the atmosphere, giving off light in the process. While this process is not unique to the earth's poles, the weather conditions also need to be just right for the lights to be seen. So, as warned by all of the tourism operators, you can try all you like to hunt the lights, but you are totally at the mercy of mother nature!
So, all of this got me to thinking about the influence of light on our everyday lives, apart from the obvious advantage of providing us with the sense of sight! Photographers and artists use light to convey emotion and meaning. We talk about lightness of spirit, feeling light-hearted. We are enlightened when we have knowledge and education. We light candles for loved ones. A light in the darkness can be uplifting, welcoming - and make you feel safe and secure.
Hunting the light. I like it. It captures the feel of my travels - and I particularly like the idea of actively seeking and chasing the light, not just waiting passively for the light to find me.
Posted by Susan Whitbread