Polar Night Grand Finale

I rose Friday morning and began preparing for my journey back to Abisko, but indeed as predicted, the sun did not elect to do the same. When I departed Kiruna station around 10:30 a.m., there wasn't much that could be considered daylight and by the time I arrived in Abisko just before noon, what little ambient light that had managed to collect was rapidly dissipating.  A few hours later, I decided to go for a walk to stretch my legs a bit and get a Fanta orange (I'm addicted to the much less sweeter European version) and on my walk back when I rounded the sweeping curve that leads uphill from the train station to the Abisko.net hostel, I was greeted by the glorious surprise of the rising crescent moon.  I suppose due to our far northerly latitude, the moon never rose very far off the horizon and as a result remained incredibly breathtakingly HUGE.

I was so enchanted by the sight of that enormous sliver of moon presiding over a wash of purples and oranges that I continued ambling about, stopping to watch the launch of a dogsled pulled by a team of 12 joyously yapping dogs and then discovering a well proportioned but ominous looking snowman lurking in the sodium vapor glow of a nearby hotel.  I used the opportunity of wandering about to scout out a good location where I could watch the evening's forecasted aurora borealis display which was predicted to be fairly active relating to the arrival of energy from a recent coronal mass ejection.  I was very pleased to observe that the day's persistent cloud cover had begun dissolving and drifting away into the twilight - another important element in prime aurora watching.

A whole new wave of visitors was swarming into the hostel when I returned, wreaking havoc just as I was about to begin the chore of packing my bags for my departure the next afternoon.  My room gained four new faces - 2 fellows from Israel and 2 from Japan.  I could tell it was time for me to get on the road, because I felt irritated when the Israelis insisted on arranging things to their liking - which certainly was no fault of theirs, it was just a signal that I had reached the point of needing to be on my own for a while.  I'd very much enjoyed being around so many new and interesting people during my stay but it was beginning to wear on me.

The hostel cleared out after dinner when all the newcomers eager to take advantage of the possibility of seeing the aurora went off in search of their own darkened spot and I continued about my chores, stopping to go outside and assess the heavens every so often so I wouldn't miss the show myself.

I used the time to assemble all the items I'd need to go out on a photo expedition later that evening should the aurora decide to cooperate: headlamp, extra camera batteries, tripod and hand warmers - all in addition to the usual suite of warm clothing and accessories that were necessary to brave the cold.  It wasn't long before I was greeted by a familiar and exhilarating sight upon opening the window next to my bunk and peering out into the night - a strong band of light undulating in the north, snaking off into the distance.

I immediately suited up and was soon headed up the hill I had reconnoitered earlier that afternoon, jabbering excitedly to myself as I took in the display and its intensity.  Ribbons of light flared in every direction, bright spots materializing in vertical columns, gigantic curves and horizontal stripes, all of it dancing about madly overhead.  For most of the evening there was a cable of light that stretched from one horizon to the other, changing its shape, but never detaching from its invisible anchors.

I snapped pictures as quickly as the camera could manage (30 second exposure + processing time on each shot), but somehow I couldn't manage to get it right.  Something was out of sync (me?) and I never did figure out what it was.  I made several quick trips back down the hill to the hostel to warm up my feet, recharge my batteries and assess what I was doing wrong, but in the end the result was that I took a lot of crappy photos.  Which at least gave me something to do while I was standing in the -18C (about 0 degrees F) night.  Strangely, I felt like I hit just the right balance of not being too distracted from the amazing light show going on overhead and yet still having something to occupy me so I wouldn't be so present to the bitter cold.  I've included a few pictures in a small format so they won't look so awful - please enjoy them in their condensed version:

I stayed up until well after 2:00 a.m., going out over and over to get my fill.  I am pleased to report that it never stopped feeling like magic to see rivers of light dancing overhead.  And it sure is nice to have your grand finale choreographed by the Cecil B. DeMille of the cosmos.  How lucky I feel to be alive.

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