The day remained bleak like all others, from November to April, in those extreme European latitudes.
We had spent it exploring the region around Saariselka, with the time divided into separate walks. One that ended with sauna combined with vantouinti: the practice so idolized in Finland of diving and swimming for a very short duration in a small hole opened in a frozen river buried in snow.
Shortly after sunset, we returned to Kakslauttanen. As was to be expected, as soon as we finished dinner, tiredness took over our bodies and minds.
We were in the most popular hotel in the town, famous above all for providing guests with stays designed to facilitate the observation of northern lights, in large capsules created in reinforced glass.
The hotel restaurant closes. With nothing else to do, enthusiastic about the mission ahead but already somewhat anesthetized by fatigue, we settled into the special shelter that had been given to us.
We downloaded the day's images, reviewed the photographic equipment, resumed reading some articles and guides on the final destination frigid that we had set out to discover.
This, of course, with systematic pauses to scan the sky above for suspicious lights. We both held on for some time with these distractions and a lot of drawn-out conversation, each time more forced.
Until we were forced to establish a shift regime, which was only a little painful.
The Desperate Wait. And the Celebrated Appearance of the Northern Lights
By midnight, this regime had been overthrown by the unstoppable forces of sleep. We were both sleeping without any awareness of defeat when a hint of anxiety awakened us and turned our eyes upward.
A strange shimmer lit the sky in an irregular rhythm, but it didn't reveal any unusual hue to us. “This must be some sneaky disco light from Kakskautannem…” we convince ourselves without putting much faith in our luck.
But the light had no pulsation or repetition pattern. We analyzed it for a few additional moments and rejected that hypothesis. "It can not be. It can only be them! They are beginning, we conclude in an almost hysterical ecstasy.
We put on the layers of clothing we needed to survive the excruciating cold outside, grabbed the tripod and the rest of the equipment and left the glassed-in igloo.
Outside, we were able to see the starry sky better. We noticed at a glance that the Northern Lights followed one another above and, in a shade of yellowish-green, stretched, shrank and writhed in much of the breadth of the celestial vault.
Departure for the -28th Atrocious of Finnish Lapland
We looked for a place that covered the village's dim lighting and we were fascinated by the event's extraterrestrial dance and admired them, always curious about how much more they would expand and change tones.
Only hours later did we return to the igloo, with our feet numb from the continual immobility and our hands even worse from the frequency with which we exposed them to the air, to the metal of the tripod and part of the cameras, all at almost XNUMX degrees below zero.
It was the first time we saw Northern Lights.
It wouldn't be the last.
In that part of the world, the northern lights – as they are also called – can be seen on about 100 nights a year concentrated between September and April.
Today, most natives do not bother to leave casa to check the sky, or they don't even notice that the phenomenon is happening right over their heads.
Native Sami Interpretations of the Northern Lights
In historical terms, the various Sami groups they arrived at different explanations, each one more original than the rest. Some believed they were beings with a soul and the ability to hear and understand humans.
The Sami Skolt thought they were the souls of people killed in war.
Others thought it was gas that rose from the sea and lakes. But the most popular belief in Lapland explained the phenomenon with a fire fox that ran across the fields waving its long tail.
In the old days, women didn't dare go out without a hat or a cloth over their heads, afraid of getting their hair burned.
During the more pronounced movements of the aurora borealis, no one was supposed to make noise or speak. The Sami also avoided pointing to the sky for fear of insulting them and being punished by them.
Most of its users are not aware of it, but it was this same incandescent fox that the Firefox search engine popularized with its logo with the canid surrounding the blue planet.
Travel to Inari, Far North of Finnish Lapland
The itinerary we had established evolved north to Inari, close to the northern boundary of the suomi nation. We continued our search there.
At Inari, we dedicate as much time as possible to Kings Cup, the grand finale of reindeer racing which brings together Sami breeders and jockeys from all over the country to socialize and compete on the completely frozen lake Inari.
On one of those days, we stayed at the edge of Lake Menesjärvi, in an old abandoned school that a family had turned into an inn.
There, we found ourselves far from any village and without much else to do.
At the same time, twilight set in under an almost clear sky.
New Northern Lights Search. On the Icy Surface of Lake Menesjärvi
We went back out onto the frozen lake and waited. We were far more unprotected than in Kakslautannem's pods. To compensate, the initial wait proved much shorter.
The night had not yet completely darkened when we noticed the first dance in the sky, a less vivid green than the sightings of a few days ago.
The pitch set in. The auroras intensified for a good 40 minutes, over the lake and the surrounding boreal forest. At first, we ran to alert the other guests that they had started.
When they were interrupted, we once again spent hours waiting for them to return.
Until the temperature dropped unbearably and led us to suggest in the dining room, we set up a watch scheme in short alternations.
We realized, however, that the international group had been content with what they saw after our warning.
Alone in that quest, chilled and exhausted, we withdrew, in the hope that the fox would not appear while we slept.
One year later. New sequel to the Finnish Aurora Borealis Saga
The following year we returned to Finnish Lapland. We returned determined to better explore its capital Rovaniemi and the surrounding region. We also took the opportunity to debut in the practice of cross country skiing, sacred modality in those parts.
We did it in Ounasvaara, at the base of a winter sports resort that stretched out on a slope as measured as they are in Finland.
It had already occurred to us that twilight must be fabulous from the top of the hill. We climbed aboard the pigtails that passed us. Even crammed and hampered by photo backpacks and other ill-kept possessions, we conquered it effortlessly.
When we land on the summit, the sun dissolves into a vast western section of the horizon. Free from the protection of the slope, the wind blows high and furious.
In such a way that it seems to spread that orange stain of sunset, not just the snow that enters our eyes and freezes our reddened cheeks.
A Lush Sunset, as a Celestial Preamble to the Night Show
We are luckier than we expected. The Sky Ounasvaara hotel is just a few steps away. We find the semi-buried base of the access stairs and go up to the panoramic terrace.
From there, we unveil the white vastness of the center of Lapland, already tinged with an overwhelming pink.
Snow-laden beeches fill the slope as far as the eye can see, or at least until their diffuse vision merges with that of the houses of Rovaniemi and its surroundings, dispersed throughout the adjoining valley.
A bluish nightfall ends up imposing itself on the succession of tones that until then had decorated the atmosphere. We retired to the hotel fireplace and recovered from the near freezing we had once again undergone.
Once the heat and spirits have returned, every ten minutes one of us returns to the terrace and scans the sky for the magical lights. We give up after two hours when an inconvenient cloud cover the firmament without appeal.
Around nine we arrived at another hotel, the Arctic. We await you at the reception. Dozens of Japanese pay large euros for the privilege of observing the phenomenon with special conditions and comfort, including being able to recover from the cold inside a tipi, around a fire, with the right to roast sausages, hot coffee and tea.
A manager rescues us from the wait among the Japanese. Take us to the local Ice Palace.
We drink vodka in the bar, walk through the various rooms and renew our amazement at the excellence of those gigantic seasonal sculptures.
After the tour, we walked to the edge of the lake near the hotel.
Northern Lights Contemplation among Japanese Admirers
This time, we don't even have to wait.
There are still a few meters to the shore when we start to hear “aaaahs”, “ooohhhs” and “sugois” (cool, in Japanese). We arrived at the frozen bed. We found a battalion of Japanese and other Asians in absolute ecstasy with the spectacle in the sky.
Over the lake and the adjoining forest, an aurora borealis, sometimes green, sometimes yellow, wriggles and writhes again in a fascinating magnetic dance.
The Japanese, in particular, win, then and there, the day and the mini-vacation. With greater abundance of snow, during winter, in several areas of your mountainous country, in the case of the hyper-snowy region of Shirakawa Go – above all, the Northern Lights attract them at this time of year to flat Finland.
In addition to appreciating its eccentric beauty, many travel halfway around the world imbued with the belief that those space lights will grant them a better sex life and fertility.
Fire Fox's Last Days with No Signal
For us, it was already the third sighting. We continued to try but the following days remained cloudy. We had signed up for a small excursion that proposed to look for the northern lights around a lake and a small farm inhabited by a community that lived, in the old-fashioned way of Lapland.
We soon realized – like everyone else in the group – that with a sky there almost completely covered, the probability of seeing them was close to zero.
Reformed, we focused on the best we could find at ground level. We socialized and devoured freshly grilled sausages around a huge fire that we were all feeding.
The fox never deigned to appear.
We were content with just fire.