The spaces in between the moments
Guest writer Sally Kohn chases the Northern Lights.
The problem was I didn’t want to be cold. When I was invited to visit the Pyhätunturi ski resort in Lapland, that was my first thought. I don’t like being cold as doesn’t my partner, who would join me on the trip along with our nine-year-old daughter and my brother-in-law Jacob.
But I’ve wanted to see the Northern Lights since forever when I first saw them in a movie. Pyhä seemed to be the perfect opportunity – the lower part of Finnish Lapland being far north enough to optimise my chances, yet still reachable in a quick flight from Helsinki. But going in the dead of winter seemed like it might kill us, so we went in April.
I’d looked at all sorts of charts online and they seemed to suggest early April was a perfectly fine time to see the Northern Lights in Lapland, and we all know the internet is never wrong. Thanks to Canada Goose, Kodiak, Arc’teryx, North Face, Fjällräven, and Polarn O. Pyret, we were a veritable United Nations of warm layers. So, I thought I’d get to see the Northern Lights and not be cold. Turns out I was wrong on both fronts. But the surprise discovery was a vacation that delighted with fun adventures and wonderment.
We went dogsledding. Or more accurately, my daughter sat on a tiny wooden sled as I stood on its two thin metal sled rails holding on for dear life as a pack of dogs pulled our sled at a breath-taking pace. It was the best thing ever.
The lights were there, we just couldn’t see them.
We also went snowshoeing through the forest. At one point, we stopped to eat sausages that we roasted over a fire in a kota (Lappish hut) and added Turun sinappi mustard. I bought three tubes to bring home as a souvenir.
Each night we tried to spot the Northern Lights but to no avail. On our last night, a guide said he could take us to see the Northern Lights. There were no promises, of course. But if the lights were visible, he knew where to take us.
Around 2:00 am I thought I saw green lights on the horizon. Jacob managed to get some pictures. Yes, the pictures are haunting and ethereal, but also kind of sad. Turns out that on that night, the sun never actually set enough for us to see the aurora borealis. The lights were there, technically, we just couldn’t see them. Also, I was freezing. Even then it felt like a metaphor. A frustrating metaphor.
We spent the next few days in Rovaniemi. We saw Santa, visited the forestry museum, and stayed in the Arctic Treehouse Hotel. We wouldn’t have done any of this without the Northern Lights. They were the excuse we needed for what ended up being an extraordinary trip with or without the lights. And also, a very tangible reminder that the journey matters more than the destination. I can always go back. Especially because my dog sledding skills need practice. And now I know that heated gloves are a thing.
Photo Jean-Philippe Jehan