The Surprise I Needed While Watching the Northern Lights in Norway

Northern Lights Tromso Norway

We were more free when our phones still had wires.

More connected without Wi-Fi and 4G. 

The perceived limitation of being plugged into the wall actually provides us with more freedom, more mental space because a phone wasn’t always at your fingertips to check.  

Have you ever been to a concert or event and looked around at everyone filming? The whole time, viewing and experiencing through the lens of their camera or phone. 

Sure, it’s great to have a photo of the experience, but is that why we travel? To have photos and souvenirs? Relics to share and show off?

For me, I travel to stand in awe of the beauty of the Earth and its’ fascinating cultures, and to learn something about the world, about life, about myself and how I want to engage with the world daily. When I travel I feel the most in tune with my true self, deeply connected with the present moment. 

Having a couple great photos is just a bonus.

When I went to London to visit friends this winter, we decided to continue the adventure and explore a 5th country together; Norway.

As I’m not a big winter person, I prefer hot humid climates to cold snowy climates (to balance my Vata dosha), so I have always traveled to Europe in summer and I didn’t think I’d be back in Europe over a winter so I wanted to take advantage of the timing and see the Northern Lights.  

I chose Norway over Iceland, Sweden, and Finland because I fell in love with Norway the first time I went there in 2017, and felt compelled to return and experience the country in a different season. I don’t travel to a country for a week and claim to be familiar with it, I like to travel deeper than that.  

So here we are in Tromsø, Norway, 220 miles (350 km) north of the Arctic Circle, equipped with half a dozen layers of thermal, fleece, and insulation to protect us from the harsh 18ºF (-8ºC) temperature. 

Tromso Norway winter

We planned to stay in Tromsø for six nights to give ourselves the best chance at seeing the Northern Lights.

Nature is a fickle thing. It cannot be predicted and no matter how much you plan; nature is outside of your control.

Making travel plans is about doing the research, making the best educated guesses, and then being truly open to the experience, no matter what it is.

We hoped that at one of those six nights would provide us with an incredible Northern Lights experience, but if not, so be it, it wasn’t meant to be and I would return to try my luck seeing them another time. 

We arrived in Tromsø on a Wednesday evening, and booked a tour for the next night.

We chose to do a sailing tour through the fjords to view the lights which seemed like a really fun alternative to the most common way to see the Northern Lights in Tromsø, a bus tour.

Stuffed 5 layers including my parka into this drysuit!

Stuffed 5 layers including my parka into this drysuit!

We boarded the sail boat and were given the tour rules & regulations. The do’s and don’ts. Things like always wear a life vest on the deck, in case you fall if the water’s so cold you might not be able to move. That little tidbit was filed at the forefront of my things to remember. Don’t fall in, or possibility of death. Duly noted.

Within 15 minutes of sailing away from the harbor and the lights of the city of Tromsø, our Capitan called for us to join him outside on the deck. The show was beginning.

A faint green line reached from beyond a mountain, to the sky above.

We sat there appreciating its beauty, all silently wishing for the subtleness to grow into a more vibrant light. Eventually people started returning to the warm refuge of the cabin, asking us to call out for them if the Northern Lights became more active.

Shortly thereafter the lights began to dance in wild ecstasy, painting the sky with vibrant hues of green and pink, filling the entire sky with light. The light twirled in the wind, rushing with energy and life, like a river in the sky. Not bound to any direction or pattern, she moved freely in circles, then rushing up like a waterfall in reverse. 

For more than an hour this continued.

Sometimes the group chatted about it’s amazing movement and color. Other times we sat watching in awe and silence. I could feel this sacred light and energy flow through every fiber of my being, resonating through my heart space, and it brought me to gentle tears… such a sap… I know.

Both our guide and Capitan “oohed” and “awed” with us, and they made clear that tonight was an incredibly special night – the Northern Lights didn’t always put on a show like this night. In fact, rarely did it put on a show as spectacular as this, one said maybe 2-3 times a year the colors, the movement were this good. The other said he’d seen it this good only once before.  

And you know the thing… the minute I could make out the Northern Lights in the sky… I took my camera out to take photos.  

My first instinct, capture the moment to remember later, and not to immerse myself in the experience. How silly. Before even giving myself time to fully immerse myself in the moment, I reverted to capturing the moment for later. But what then am I remembering? Surely some lesser version of the experience because I wasn’t really in it if my face is buried in the camera.

But as fate would have it, the cold affected my camera and I couldn’t turn it on; an error message appeared on the screen. Surprise!

I chuckled… with a hint of frustration and “you’ve got to be kidding me”, but took it as a sign to put away the electronics. Sit, watch the sky with my own eyes, breath in the feeling of being apart of something to elemental, and not worry about capturing the perfect picture to share on social media later. Just be here, be present.

It was the most beautiful thing I have every witnessed. I can guarantee I wouldn’t have had the connection to it if not for a frozen camera and an error message.  

At the end of the evening, everyone buzzing from what we just witnessed, the Capitan said that the Northern Lights look better in photos than it does in real life, since the camera’s lens is capturing all the light and color in the sky for a minute or more and putting into one photo. But tonight was one of the rare nights that a camera couldn’t capture the magic.

Maybe it was luck, maybe fate, maybe manifestation – either way I’m incredible grateful to have been present to the experience.

I did manage to take a handful pictures on my phone, usually an impossible feat to capture light in the dark on an iPhone. Again… luck? Fate? Manifestation? I think the latter.

Northern Lights Norway fjord sailboat
Northern Lights Norway dancing lights
Northern Lights Norway Tromso fjord sailing

How do you feel about taking photos while traveling, at concerts or other events? Do you find it helps keep you present and adds to the experience, or detracts from it?

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