"The tail lights of a passing 4x4 head off along a track into the Arctic dark, and you lose the sound of the truck much sooner than you lose sight of the red lights. It’s eerily, spookily, quiet. Dan pokes a stick through a small fire he’s made and we sip the soup he’s dished out.
I’m somewhere near Tromsø, northern Norway, on a Lights chasing trip with Dan Steinbakk, professional Aurora hunter and Northern Lights guide. We’d left Tromsø at seven, packed into the back of Dan’s truck in our puff-ball cold weather gear like so many marshmallows in a bag, and snaked our way out into the wilds and the January night. Now it’s nine o’clock in the evening and minus 15. Dan checks his GPS and rubs his beard with a glove. Looks up at the sky anxiously. Every chase is a bet with nature – and clouds especially. There’s nothing to do but wait.
I rehearse my camera work. The camera’s ISO is cranked up to 800; I’ve switched the exposure down to 10 seconds; and put the self-timer on to a two-second delay – so as not to knock the camera or tripod when pressing the shutter. I’ve put my 14mm wide angle on and taken focus from a star.
Later – much later – a plume of thick green smoke-like light bursts over the mountain on the far side of the lake. It’s magical. Unworldly. Like a signal-flare, it seems to call more Lights to the sky. Behind us now, an arch is being built in the sky, a bridge of green light spans from one side of the sky to the other. It’s alive. It curls, fronds itself around and peels away, like a paint spill or like ink in a jam-jar, or like those time-lapse films of leaves unfurling.
Everyone is whooping with joy, uncontrollably. Even Dan, who’s seen this so many times before, is on the frozen lake, arms in the air in wonder, and I totally understand why: there’s something irresistible transmitted from the Universe to the bones: the joy shoots through you. I know that sounds grand, and pretentious. But it is truly... awesome. Such an over-used word, but never more appropriate.
When the show eventually fades and dies, there’s almost a palpable sense of… loss, I think. On the way back, the thermometer on the dashboard dips colder and colder: -17... -18. At -21 we pull over. A couple of us get out, curious to know what -21 feels like. The truth is it feels… like nothing. Maybe it’s because we’re still buzzing with light inside us."