It Was a Bitterly Cold -22°

For 14 years my husband spent half of every winter up in northern Sweden, working on a frozen lake. The engineers flew up for 2 week stints, leaving home on Mondays and returning two weeks later on a Friday evening charter flight.

The very last year that Uwe did this stint, his company began to allow family members to take advantage of the flights. At the end of March 2001, on the vernal equinox, I flew up to meet Uwe in the region broadly known as Lappland.

Limited access roads

My flight was delayed while President Putin flew through European airspace back to Russia. By the time I arrived it was close to midnight, and we had to drive an hour further north to reach Arjeplog. It was a bitterly cold -22° and on either side of the deserted road the snow piles loomed. But we kept stopping the car to get out – the Northern Lights were dancing in the heavens! So far north, surrounded by nothing but woods and the glittering of stars, the aurora borealis played across the horizen.

I heard a weird background swishing noise underneath the sound of my heart beat. I was listening to the borealis. As I stood on the frigid road my optic nerves took pictures of the Northern Lights. It was so quiet that the part of my brain which processes sound picked up signals leaking out from the images. Early explorers in the Arctic Circle reported this experience. (They discovered when they put their hands over their eyes, the sounds went away.)

The Lights are caused by disturbance in the magnetic field of the earth’s poles. Energy generated by solar winds is hurled from the sun at incredibly high speeds. The solar winds get stopped when they hit the magnetic field. Electrons and atoms from the windstorms collide, and that creates the lights.

In some parts of Sweden and Norway, people earlier described the aurora borealis as the reflection of Silleblixt, millions of herring swimming in the sea. The Eskimos have a legend about the Northern Lights. They think the aurora borealis lights up the trail of the afterlife. This is a dangerous, narrow path that souls must take when they leave dead bodies and head to heaven.

Some cultures mention the lights as dancers in the heavens. Scotsmen call the Northern Lights ‘Merry Dancers’. In the Middle Ages, if people saw the Northern Lights and they contained red, it meant a war was starting somewhere in the world. The red color was death and the blood being spilled in battles. I just saw different shades of white lights and no other colors in the spectrum. And I definitely thought they were alive, like dancers.

The next day we drove north and officially crossed into the Arctic Circle. The trees ended altogether and the landscape beyond this point was a dome of snow meeting an azure sky.

It had warmed up to -6° and the day was clear and beautiful

The Swedes refer to this time of year as winter-spring, the 5thand most beautiful season of all. I made a snow angel

A snow angel for the Arctic Circle

and spotted a rare Arctic white ptarmigan. We drove past spots on the deserted roads where black garbage bags hung dark against the snow. These are a signal for drivers that a herd of reindeer is grazing somewhere nearby.

That weekend is the only time I have seen the Northern Lights. They have danced in my memories ever since.

(All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

31 thoughts on “It Was a Bitterly Cold -22°”

    1. Hi Bronwyn, knowing you may never return to a spot is a good incentive to make the most of it! And seeing the aurora borealis was luck, pure and simple. If I never get another chance to glimpse the Northern Lights I’ll forever be glad for that weekend.

    1. Thank you for the compliments! The adventures come courtesy of my husband I think, while the writing style came almost immediately as I looked for my ‘blog voice’.

      …and by the way that vacation house you rented in NJ for everyone sounds great…

  1. Lovely post, thank you for sharing. I still haven’t seen the Northern Lights. They seem to escape me when I’m in their vicinity. I hope one day I will catch them, as I have been fascinated with them since I was a child.

    1. I spent the rest of my visit scanning the skies every night but didn’t see them again. It was random (and very lucky) that I experienced the Northern Lights that one time.

  2. Absolutely breath-taking words — I feel as if I’ve seen the Northern Lights in a more intense way than through others’ photographs!

    1. It was the remoteness; the lateness of the hour; the freeze of the temperature; and the magic of the lights in the heavens. They took my breath away in every sense imaginable.

  3. That sounds so incredible! I’ve had friends try to describe their experiences of the northern lights and yours is tremendous! They didn’t mention hearing them!
    I’ve gone as far north as Trondheim Norway where it was rain, rain, rain. so maybe I’ll get to see these.
    Another time.

  4. Well, it`s amazing nearly everybody thinks that he or she are hearing this sound when seeing aurora borealis. When I lived in the Arctic we did a research about this but we could not find a proof of aurora borealis producing sounds.
    Thanks for your arcticle. That reminds me of a great time I have had in the Arctic.
    Have a great week and thanks for visting my blog (where I wrote about aurora borealis too)
    Klausbernd

    1. Hello Klausbernd,
      Whatever I heard, it was so unusual that when I returned home I hunted for information to discover what the phenomenon might be. I don’t claim to know for sure what I experienced; but the sense of hearing something was a real one. Thank you for your comment. I will be sure to visit your blog and read your post! —Jadi

      1. Dear Jadi,
        I have to admit I always “heard” it too, but we couldn`t proof this sound scientifically.
        Probably it`s a syneasthetic phenomenon.
        Thanks for visiting my blog 🙂
        All the best
        Klausbernd

    1. Hi John,
      We’re currently shivering in wintry weather here in southern Germany so I haven’t responded to your comment before now. Thank you for the kind words. I am new to blogging and my goal for this blog is to describe experience in the the truest way I can (regardless of whether that experience belongs to me or the characters in my books). I’m so pleased this post made it come alive for you!

  5. You have a wonderful writing style! This sounds like the lifestyle of many oil workers of Alaska. We live on the Kenai Peninsula, so the aurora is not as dramatic as it is in the interior around Fairbanks, but it is still awesome!

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