Santa Claus, Reindeer Piss and The Northern Lights
I could have never imagined what I saw. Nor could I have imagined how much I would deeply connect with Laplands in Northern Sweden.
The day began at 4:30am. I had my alarm set to P.M. rather than AM. DOH! It was alright, My friend Corinna was on it and I had the coffee percolator prepared. The Swedish oven-top heated the tiny pot in disturbing speed. I whisked Corinna off to the airport, returned in enough time to aaaalmost fall asleep again, then repeated the trip with the rest of the team. We had just completed an Epic workshop in Stockholm, with 500 beautiful people wanting to dive deep into healing trauma. I looked like a stuffed scarecrow walking through the airport with all my travel clothes on in layers in order to avoid traveling North with any checked luggage. My travel companion, a little sewn Pikachu peeking out of my pocket, like the traveling gnome from the popular movie, Amelie. We had received the doll as a gift and I had personally decided to take him on an adventure to inspire travel of the gift giver. Muahahahaha
I was headed North to see the Northern Lights. I already knew they didn’t occur very often and that my search for them could very well end 15 years from now. The forecast wasn’t looking great either. 100% cloud cover for the next seven days. I figured that at the very least, I would go hike around some beautiful terrain and explore a foreign culture. It’s amazing what happens when expectations are low.
As I boarded the plane, I received wide-eyed looks from a petite brown eyed girl getting on the plane behind me. I thought it was because of my Pikachu travel companion. Settling into my seat, I was off to Abisko, Sweden and flying North from Stockholm to the 68th Parallel. To give you some perspective, Stockholm is the same latitude as Anchorage Alaska and we were about to fly 2 hours north of that. The nearest airport to Abisko is located in a fascinating city called Kiruna. It is a city of 20,000 people that exists solely because of an Iron Ore Mine. A few years ago, after digging 1500 meters below the surface of the city, they discovered that the ore vein ran directly underneath the city. The mine is currently funding a billion dollar, 85 year relocation of the entire city of Kiruna so they can continue pulling the equivalent of 1 Empire State building per day volume of ore and rock from the ground. It is a mine that produces some of the highest grade steel on the planet. During my trip, of the 8 people I met in Kiruna, 5 of them were Engineers.
Just before the plane burst off the runway I received my first notification that there was a G2 class Geomagnetic Storm happening in our magnetosphere. I tried not to get my hopes up but I felt an inner squeal of excitement arise within me. The landscape below transformed to a frosty white expanse dotted with icy lakes. The landscape rested in a slow sunset that would proceed for the next 4 hours even though it was noon. Upon landing, the little wide-eyed woman came up and asked me if my name was Blake. I said yes. She was shocked to see me. And even more shocked to find that I was traveling to the town, with a population of only 100, where she had spent the most part of the last 2 years. As synchronicity would have it, she had just attended the workshop I’d just introduced which was hosted by the world renowned personal transformation expert, Teal Swan, whom I have worked with and introduced events for the past 9 years. The woman’s name was Nivi, a thoughtful and spirited Greenlandic woman from a town called Qeqertarsuaq. I wish you could hear her pronounce it, as Greenlandic originates from the Eskimo language family and coming from her sounded like the name of an Ewok town on Endor. I was embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even know people came from or even lived in Greenland. Not often you meet one.
Nivi and I exchanged a greeting as well as a goodbye, but proceeded to discover that we were taking the same bus to Abisko, a one-hour drive away from the airport, roughly a 20 hour drive from where we’d first met. We navigated our way across snowdrifited roads. On the hour long journey, Nivi talked about the history of the area and its people. The natives that live in the area are called Sami and they date back to 6000 BC. Like other indigenous populations, they suffered grievously from historical persecution and cultural genocide. The peaceful Sami were particularly devastated during World War II when they were forced to fight, even against each other. Currently the Sami hold stewardship over all Reindeer in Northern Sweden and many travel with the reindeer in the summer and corral them in the winter. Nivi pointed to a cliff in the distance and explained another Sami legend that when death was close they had the choice to either make the life eclipsing jump or succumb to the elements.
Nivi spoke of a hallucinogen the Sami traditionally use. They collect the Urine of Reindeer that had consumed fly agaric mushrooms (red toadstools with white spots). The Sami would tell stories of their Reindeer flying through space looking down on the world. Early Christian missionaries brought back these stories ad they eventually made it into Christmas folklore. Other stories that came from the north were legends of Kyorak Shamans dressed in red cloaks lined with white fur and black boots that collected toadstools from under sacred evergreen trees. The mushrooms were put into burlap pouches and were given as gifts. This means Santa Claus does exist! And he’s a dealer!
The landscape was breathtaking. We were now riding adjacent to a 70 km lake. Snow was lightly embracing the stark tundra and mountains began hoisting the landscape around us as we neared the more mountainous western border of Sweden. One thing that struck me was the light. I thought I would have a hard time with the near 18 hours of darkness in the far north. But what I hadn’t realized was that with the tilt of the earth, the sun rises at a 133˚and sets at 223˚. Which essentially means that all 6.5 hours of daylight are spent in sunrise or sunset.
There was a bit of confusion upon my arrival. No one had actually heard of the Hostel I was supposed to be staying in. After a bit of discussion it turned out the new Hostel was referred to as ‘Rogers Place’. This was confirmed after an email I found welcoming me as his much celebrated very 1st guest. From there, the synchronicity only got better when it turned out Nivi and I were staying exactly one house distance away from each other in the town.
A woman named Anna opened welcomed me. I came to discover that Anna runs roughly the distance of a marathon everyday in the hills of Abisko. The previous weekend she had broken the Woman’s record on a course in Sweden for the Ultra Marathon by a 5 hour margin. It was apparent I was in a town of outdoor enthusiasts. Roger introduced me to the glimmering hostel decorated with enormous pictures of the Auroras. I didn’t realize that most Auroras are green, brilliant lambent bands of neon green reaching and snaking across the sky. He fumbled through describing the science behind the borealis. He described it well enough for me to understand that describing exactly what is happening with the Borealis is not easy. I couldn’t believe the synchronicity of my timing nor could I believe all the conditions that had to be in perfect alignment in order for the Northern Lights to occur. You need a combination of high Solar Winds (speed and density), a clear sky, and no city lights. Even the moon can ruin your chances to see them.
Two days before I arrived, giant coronal holes were forming on the Sun, sending solar winds in every direction, including earth. The density and speed of those winds formulate the KP index. Anything above a 4 is good. By the time I arrived, the KP index was 7 and had jumped into the classification of G1-G2 class Geomagnetic storm. A solar wind speed above 250 kilometers per second is also good and it was up to 500 km/s. The density also needed to be around 2 protons/cm³ and it was at 5. It also just happened to be a new moon that night, so no moonlight in sight. The chances were good. Now we just prayed for clear skies. I wasn’t expecting much because I knew things had to be perfect and the forecast had predicted 100% cloud cover for 7 days straight, but I couldn’t lie that my hopes were up. But I was in Abisko, Sweden for a very specific purpose. They call Abisko “The Blue Hole” for a reason. The geography places the town just east of the mountains of Norway and just on the southwestern bank of the 70 kilometer long Torneträsk lake. This orientation causes a microclimate, where clouds could be entirely covering the land and yet Abisko would still be exposed to the heavens.
I set down my things in the Hostel and went out to get some food and supplies for the next couple of days and waited for dinner time. I had accepted a dinner invitation extended by Nivi and her English boyfriend Oliver, who also happened to be a professional photographer whose profession revolved specifically around photographing the Northern Lights. Not long after I returned, a knock came and Roger was there. “What are you doing inside? The sky is green!” I walked outside and sure enough a faint river of green appeared across the sky. Not a minute later, I received a text from Nivi “We are going out to photograph the lights, want to come? I typed YES in caps lock to try and not seem too excited.
We hopped in Oliver’s van that he uses for photo tours and took off down the road, which was literally a solid sheet of ice. We didn’t have to drive too far until we were tracing the edge of a lake hoping to get some nice reflections in the images Oliver had set out to capture. Fingers of the Borealis stretched across the horizon. At first they appeared to move as clouds do, gently shifting in the atmosphere. But after watching for just a few moments, ripples start forming down the length of the band of light. It looked like when you take a rope, lift and then drop it quickly to send a wave down the length of it. Then more rapid movements emerged from the green mist. At times they moved as if silent veiled ghosts floating across the sky.
We were fighting with our position against the cloud cover. Oliver would get a few good shots and the lights would die down or hide behind a bank of clouds, forcing us to shift our position and head to a different part of the lake. I was asking what Nivi thought of them and she said something really interesting. She said that she was a little afraid of them. She said that when she’s walking at night alone with them, that she sometimes feels scared they will take her away. She also said that the black negative space between the fingers of light also frightened her, the contrast of the darkness. A little later the bathing waves of green were calmer, we were still glued to the sky affixed in wonder. Nivi had told me earlier about an intelligence she felt the Borealis had. I was contemplating this incredible natural phenomena. Both how I’d seen nothing like it but also how I felt a familiarity.
The borealis seemed to move like emotions or thoughts. It was profound seeing earth’s consciousness itself play out in this beautiful dance in the sky. A strange thought occurred to me, and then I said it out loud “It’s Me!!”. Nivi yelped “YES! in confirmation. And as if the lights had heard us, the Aurora immediately started to flare into a burning phosphorus green filling the entire visual sky. Tendrils began to move even more quickly popping in and out. At this point my mind blew a gasket. The color sprinted into bright pink, purple and white. It snaked right at us like rivulets of a river delta in time lapse. It came towards us so fast, so light and silently, I suddenly understood why Nivi felt like they were coming
to take us away.I suddenly understood how ancients believed in dragons in the sky and how people could believe in a God coming from the sky.We were (maybe more so I was) yelling in amazement, “Wow Wow” at the top of my lungs.Oliver stopped taking shots and switched to live video.
In all the years I had been committed to seeing the lights, I had no idea how amazing they truly would be. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. It was as if I saw some consciousness, much larger than myself playing out across the heavens. I fear being called “crazy” or “woo-woo” by an entire Agnostic/Atheist part of society whom I often identify with. I have always honored a healthy level of skepticism. I have considered it a way to stay grounded and connected to our wider society. But I also must admit that I have seen enough in even my own short life to accept the truth that humans don’t know everything. In fact, we know very little.
I had thought about finishing this written window into my thoughts, with disavowing of current societal norms by saying if you want to find me, I’ll be drinking the Reindeer Piss under the Northern Lights. But instead of separating me from earth and the people in it, this unearthly wonder had connected me to the natural world. It had brought me to a feeling of closeness with the universe, the earth and with humanity. So I must end this by saying, no matter how scientific certain magic, like Borealis may be, I have seen magic with my own eyes. And this natural magic is something I wish for all the people of earth to see.