Day 51: Northern Lights (and a New Year!)
"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above declares His handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge." – Psalm 19:1-2
Happy New Year everyone!! It's been so nice to disconnect for a few days and really soak in the beauty of my surroundings...but truthfully, I've missed you all! I hope everyone had a fabulous New Year's Eve and that your 2014 is off to a great start.
Today's our last day in Iceland, and though I'm going to be sad to leave such an inspiring place, I'm also excited to get home and get back to work on The Cookbook Diaries. This trip has given me a fresh perspective and vision for the upcoming year, and I can't wait to see what's in store. A quick word to all of my fellow workaholics out there: vacations are such a good thing. Even if it's just for a weekend, and even if you can't go far away, having a change of scenery and pace does wonders for replenishing a weary soul, reviving creativity, and (if applicable) putting a spark back into your marriage. I'm a huge fan!
There will be more Iceland pictures and stories to come, but for today I wanted to share with you one of the highlights of our trip. In my last post, I told you that we were really hoping to see the Northern Lights while we were over here. (In fact, that was a huge reason why we decided to take a trip in the dead of winter to a country that only gets 4 hours of sunlight a day!) Also called Aurora Borealis, these incredible light displays are caused by explosions on the sun's surface, and they appear sporadically in the night sky near the Arctic Circle during the winter months.
Though Iceland is one of the best spots to see the Northern Lights, we didn't realize that the chance of seeing them is actually quite slim. Basically, there are all sorts of variables: 1) You have to have a totally clear, cloud-free night. 2) You have to have high levels of aurora activity. 3) You have to be in a dark area, away from any city light-pollution. And 4) you need a good dose of luck: even if you have factors 1 through 3, there are still no guarantees.
But we had high hopes that we would be some of the lucky few to witness this natural phenomenon. Our second day in Iceland, the boys checked an aurora forecaster website and realized that not only was the aurora activity high that night, but that sections of the peninsula outside Reykavik would be clear after 10 p.m. Even though we had several days planned in the countryside (specifically with the hopes of seeing the Northern Lights), they determined that this was the best night to see them and headed out to rent a car immediately. After dinner, bundled in our warmest clothes, we drove out of the city and into the darkness, about 45 minutes from Reykjavik.
I admit to being a bit skeptical when we arrived to a frozen field, ringed with mountains, underneath a dark, clear sky. The boys donned headlamps and decided they would trek up the hill towards a lake to get the best view, cameras in tow. Becky and I opted to stay in the warm car until we saw signs of aurora activity. Eventually a few other cars showed up and parked nearby (which in and of itself was hilarious - how did they all pick this one remote spot?!). After awhile, a man knocked on our window, which about scared us half to death. I cautiously rolled down our window and he said very calmly, in a British accent: "Hello. Would you mind turning off your car lights? You see, that (he pointed towards a small light shining into the sky) is, in fact, the Auroroa Borealis, and we'd like to take pictures." We apologized, turned off the lights, and then jumped out of the car.
The light was thin and white, shining from behind the mountains straight up, almost like a spot light. Gradually it got thicker and thicker, making an arc across the sky. It was breathtaking, though completely different than what I had expected. The man who had knocked on our window (John) was snapping away, and he showed us the pictures he was capturing on his camera. The lights appeared bright green on his screen, and he explained that to the naked eye, the aurora looks whitish blue and sometimes slightly pink, but the camera captures the green hues. We continued to watch the lights for nearly 2 hours, in the freezing cold, marveling at our good fortune. (I'll admit: I really wished I'd had a thermos of mulled wine or hot chocolate to keep me warm...but, alas.) Eventually the lights began shimmering and dancing across the sky, something which is too beautiful to capture in words. You simply have to see it.
It felt like such a gift, to experience something so rare, so beautiful, and so awe-inspiring on the second day of the New Year. It made me feel so close to God, watching his majesty displayed so boldly across the Arctic sky. I couldn't help thinking of the verses in Psalm 19 - "The heavens declare the glory of God..." Indeed, that night, they did.
We breathed a sigh of relief when we saw the boys' headlamps in the distance around 1 a.m., bobbing along through the darkness. They captured beautiful pictures on their trek, but interestingly enough, they said that they had to come down from the hill to get the best view. There was too much light pollution from Reykjavik on the hill: it was only in the valley that they could truly see the Northern lights. It provided an amazing analogy with which to begin the New Year: sometimes it takes descending into the darkness to really experience God's light. Also, it dawned on me that seeing the Northern Lights, li experiencing God, takes commitment and intention. Had we stayed in Reykjavik, inside a cozy, warm bar, we'd have missed out on the stunning display. We had to get outside our comfort zone and go in search of the lights...and then wait.
I hope you get your own Northern Lights experience this year: be it in the form of a sunset, a sunrise, the first spring flower poking its head out from the snow, a moment of deep connection with a friend, or a surprise that brings joy to your life and reminds that God is near. Because He is always there...sometimes we just have to look around us.
(Photo credit: John Fox)