CLOAKED IN WHITE
The Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, was the last item on my 87-year-old mother’s bucket list. Her three daughters decided to do something about it. We surprised her with a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where the Lights frequently make an appearance. Michigan was as far north as we could go within mainland USA. We thought it best at the time not to travel outside the country. Unfortunately, our 5-day stay in Marquette, Michigan turned out to be disheartening with nothing more in the sky than twinkling stars and a patch of Milky Way. The Lights had been visible the week before and the week after we arrived but they eluded us while we were there. Mother was disappointed and our hearts were crushed to see her cry every day while we were there. Nevertheless, we made the most of the trip and ended up having a wonderful time enjoying one another’s company and entertaining ourselves with the local sights and savors.
In my heart of hearts I couldn’t let it go. Two years later I dared to approach the subject again knowing mother had reconciled herself and abandoned the dream. This time, however, I approached it with a strategic plan. To my surprise, she agreed.
Following the Michigan trip, I made it my business to become more educated. Seven factors surfaced to optimize seeing the Northern Lights: location, darkness, time of the year, phase of the moon, length of stay, clarity, and solar activity. It’s impossible to plan for weather and solar activity (indicated by a Kp index that measures auroral activity) so I focused on everything else. For location, I aimed straight for the Arctic Circle. The closer you get to the North Pole, the better. Tromso, Norway is the largest northernmost city in the Arctic Circle. Check. The months of November through January have polar twilight meaning there are only two hours of sunlight each day. Thus, darkness is maximized. Check. The optimal time of the year is the winter months, December through March. Check. The phase of the moon has to do with the amount of light in the sky. New moons offer the least light since the dark side faces earth. First quarter, third quarter, and full moons have proportionately more light. All things considered the beginning of the first quarter moon phase suited our schedule best. Check. One night’s gazing into the heavens may not be enough for a successful sighting. A week’s stay is recommended. Check. Even with all of these factors addressed, it’s still risky. Plus the peak winter weather can obliterate sightings from the abundance of snow clouds.
Other factors to consider were: mother’s mobility and health, safety in the ice and snow, affordability, transportation, things to do when we were not chasing the lights, hotel accommodations to include a room large enough for our family to gather, and restaurants within walking distance. There were plenty of challenges to overcome. Most could be anticipated but others could not . . .
Three days before our departure mother tripped (or fainted, we don’t know) leaving church. She hit her head resulting in a deep gash near her eye. She was rushed to the nearby ER and diagnosed with a possible stroke. Because she was on blood thinner and timing was critical, she was flown by helicopter to the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Here’s where my blessings begin:
Mother’s symptoms resolved within an hour after onset. She was back to her old self before reaching Birmingham. What could have been a stroke turned out to be a mini-stroke (or TIA), something she has experienced before. Blood clots were evaluated but could not be found. Praise God. A diagnostic test to visually look at her heart confirmed no clots. If it had, we would have postponed the trip (though there was little chance we could have gone during peak season). All tests were clear. Another praise. Mother was discharged on Tuesday afternoon. All but one doctor advised her to go on the trip. The one doctor was strongly opposed informing us that the recurrence of another TIA was highest within the next seven days. We later learned in a consultation that the chance was <6%. Mother laughed and said, “We’re going to Norway even if you have to bring me back in the baggage compartment of the plane.”
We all met the next morning at the Birmingham airport and boarded the plane. As we flew over Sweden, I looked out the window to spy on the Northern Lights. I saw some strange-looking clouds changing formations. They were not brilliant or subtle in color – just a dull gray. I suspected they were the Northern Lights though they looked nothing like you see in photos with the green and purple hues. My suspicions were confirmed by the flight attendant. We had not even made it to our destination yet and already we could claim success! Glory to God!
We arrived in Tromso, Norway. The snow and ice was dangerously slippery. Mother’s rented wheelchair served as both a mobility aid and a safety device. Fortunately, no one twisted any ankles or broke any bones the entire trip. Parky fell but it resulted in nothing more than an injured ego.
Our hotel was situated near the water offering an exquisite view of a picturesque harbor with a snowy mountain backdrop. The Presidential Suite was plenty big enough for our group of seven to gather. Thank you, Lord, for caring about details.
Our second day in Norway included a city tour. We learned from the guide that Tromso had received record breaking rain the past month. Praise the Lord we had not come any earlier as we had originally considered doing. We never saw rain save one overnight shower. A blessing for sure!
The tour was delightful – even moreso when we realized it included lunch. After the tour we opted to go shopping. Some of us decided to go see the Magic Ice House where everything was carved out of ice (tables, chairs, a bar, even the glasses). The Magic Ice House was one of those serendipity blessings that offered a bit of chill-filled fun.
The evening brought much anticipation with our first light chase. When I say chase, I literally mean it! A driver/guide/photographer is hired to take you to an undesignated place away from the city lights to facilitate better viewing. We squeezed into a van and headed towards Finland. Kjetil, our guide, stopped at a snowy bank beside the water. It was dark, quiet, and a little eery. Gray cloud formations were taking shape in the sky similar to what I had seen from the airplane window. The clouds made slow-moving swirls, vertical striations, and horizontal streaks. We quickly learned that the camera lens offers the best views displaying the unseen colors that the naked eye cannot see. Actually we were thrilled to see anything at all since before we left Alabama we knew the forecast and solar activity was bleak at best – heavy clouds and a low Kp value. I had prayed for months that we would see the Northern Lights. My heart was heavy before boarding the plane but the Lord told me to trust Him. “When I look into the night sky and see the work of your fingers . . .” There we stood amazed at the display of Northern Lights before us. My black-eyed mother cried for joy. The long awaited blessing had arrived. A dream of a lifetime. Mother’s bucket list was now complete. Thank you, Lord God, Creator of the Heavens.
Blessings were everywhere we turned. Throughout the week we gazed upon unbelievable scenes of snow-covered grandeur. We delighted in a husky dog sled ride, a reindeer sled ride, and a reindeer farm where the reindeer literally ate out of your hand. And in case you’re wondering, mother did it all. Two more unexpected lunches were served and a discount wool sweater shop was discovered for which I made several purchases at 1/3 of the price from other stores. The store owner gifted us with free magnets as a thank you. We were also unknowingly blessed with delayed flights as needed allowing us to return home as planned.
We learned of another blessing after we returned home. “Terrible weather” was reported by our light chaser immediately after our departure from Tromso. Roads and ferries were closed. Our timing, God’s timing, for our snowy adventure was perfect. “Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment.” (I Timothy 6:17b)
In conclusion, our Arctic journey was deemed a success. Our blessings seemed to be cloaked in white as we saw spectacular views of mountain grandeur, frolicking reindeer, snow-covered cedar trees, snow-laden rooftops, and of course, the greatest blessing of all, the Northern Lights, as it reflected its secret beauty off the snowy rise. I’ll be honest though. The first thought that pops into my mind when I read the phrase “cloaked in white” is the personification of Jesus Christ. Surely He must have been cloaked in white at His Transformation, His Ascension, His Resurrection, and His soon-to-be Second Coming. “Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven. And everyone will see him – even those who pierced him. And all the nations of the world will mourn for him. Yes! Amen!” (Revelation 1:7) Are you prepared to see the Son of Man cloaked in white? It’s going to happen. Be ready!