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The Northern Lights


Dear Jim,

Ever since we got here, we've been talking about them.

Whether or not we would see them.

If it would get dark enough.

If the clouds would clear so we could see the sky.

We got a brief glimpse of them in Karasjok, but not the spectacular displays you see in iconic footage.

Today the sheep went crazy.

Absolutely stark raving mad.

From about 5am they were screaming non-stop.

I had never heard a sheep scream until I came to Akkarfjord, but these guys really do.

It's blood curdling.

And they watch you intently while they do it.

As Olivia (another artist here) and I were crossing the garden, one came hurtling around the corner of the barn screaming.

It was obviously surprised to see us, froze for a moment, and then bolted.

Apparently later that afternoon, a brave sheep wondered into the house which was open for airing.

In the corridor, it bumped into Victor (another artist) and got such a fright, it raced out the door and fell down the front steps.

We joked that they must have known something was going to happen.

And it did.

The night was perfectly clear and still.

And dark.

We've lost about 12 minutes of daylight every day since we got here.

So we camped out on the beach, lying on the sand, looking hopefully up at the sky.

The Sami have poems and songs they sing to call for the lights.

They say the lights are shy, and you have to tease them to come out and play.

Sing a song.

Wave a white handkerchief.

If a pretty, young girl calls for them, they are more likely to come.

They will steal her away, pulling her into another dimension.

So we waited under the big open sky.

There were stars, but not many compared to back home.

And just as we were getting tired and about to give in, the sky opened up in the most spectacular way.

I didn't know what to expect really.

It's such a bizarre phenomenon that it's impossible to anticipate what it will be like from photos and descriptions.

The way in which they glow.

The speed at which they move.

The layers of light upon light in the enormous sky.

The best description that can be given, I think, is that it is like portals to other worlds.

Like curtains, or tears in fabric that reach beyond our universe.

I know there are places in Finland and Norway that are designed for the lights to be viewed through glass-ceiling hotel rooms.

But I just can't imagine it being the same.

Yes, it's a bit cold, but that feels like part of the experience.

Feeling the air, and the wide open space, and the lights above you.

There is a word in Japanese - Yugen - one that has been on my mind for a while.

There is no direct translation for it in english, but the most concise definition seems to be:

"An awareness of the universe, that triggers emotional responses too deep and powerful for words"

It's true. There are no words for this.

Songs, poetry, photographs, paintings.

Nothing can truly express what it is to stand under the northern lights at the top of the world.

That, I suppose, is what we call sublime.


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© Alisa Tanaka-King 2020