North of North

I may write often to debunk the myth that the whole of Norway is a freezing cold, somewhat barren arctic landscape. The country has four seasons, and the more populated southern half of the country has surprisingly mild winters… you’ve heard it all before.

But in February, I left the temperate south and headed north — straight north.

Eight hundred miles, as the crow flies, from Bergen’s flowering trees and rainy winter days.

First by propeller plane, then by bus, ferry, dog-sled and ship, I worked my way across Northern Troms, and the unreasonably beautiful landscape of Arctic Norway.

Mountains covered in snow as thick and perfectly white as buttermilk frosting. Winds that danced through ribbons of snow-flakes and diamond dust. Frozen fjords and lakes, with jagged peaks half reflected in the ice. Tiny fishing huts, and open-slatted sheds for freeze drying fish.

My northward journey ended in the small fishing village of Skjervøy, the 25th northernmost human settlement on earth. There, standing beside a silent, snowy harbour, I marked the furthest north I’ve ever been.

I came back to Tromsø on the Hurtigruten cruise ship. The sprawling interior was cozy, warm — with live-music lounges and groups of people reading, playing cards, chatting. But I couldn’t linger.

Venturing outside was already an adventure — the deck and the railings were coated in ice, and coming around the dark corners exposed me to such strong wind that I had to pull myself to the front of the ship hand-over-hand.

I was dressed in three layers of pants, three pairs of wool socks, thin glove liners, waterproof down mittens, a wool hat that covered my ears, a thermal shirt, a wool sweater, the thickest fleece I could buy, my down coat with faux-fur hood, and then a water and wind-proof outer layer. But as the hours ticked by, I was colder than I could ever remember having been before.

Standing on the icy deck, watching the dark, starry skies for a glimpse of the ever-elusive northern lights, my thoughts were replaced by the sound of the wind. Snow-capped peaks slipped by, barely visible between the inky black of sky and sea.

There’s always a moment of uncertainty, with the lights. A faint green glow you’re afraid you’re just hallucinating. And then, as your heart beats faster, as you dare to hope — it rises and spreads.

For a moment, I was alone as the green light danced above me.

Then the loudspeakers came on, and an announcement sounded over the ship: “Ladies and Gentlemen, there are Northern Lights.”

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