OULU , FINLAND (DPA): Seeing the northern lights is probably the lifelong dream of many people, with wintry northern Finland a good place to try and catch these dashes of green in the night sky.
After you’ve returned home, you’ll hear one question: “And did you see them?”
One man who knows exactly where to find them is Thomas Kast. For years, the 45-year-old Finnish resident has been hunting for the spectacular light show in the sky with a lens and a tripod, sometimes even with tourists.
We won’t catch a glimpse of it this evening, however. Because it’s snowing heavily outside the hotel, in the wintry solitude some 140 kilometers (90 miles) from the northern city of Oulu, the chances of seeing the northern lights are poor.
Kast explains how they occur: “During eruptions on the surface of the sun, energized particles are thrown into space, which are then redirected towards the poles by the Earth’s magnetic shield.” Once the particles enter Earth’s upper atmosphere, they cause air molecules to glow. “It’s the most beautiful light show in the world,” Kast said.
The legend of the fox fires
The aurora borealis has not been fully researched, Kast said. But the Finns have a much easier explanation for the appearance of the aurora borealis, as the northern lights are also known: It is the arctic fox that sweeps over the snow with its tail, emitting sparks that fly up into the sky. This fox fire is called “Revontulet” in the country. But even this cannot be switched on at the touch of a button.
No problem, because there are plenty of other things to do in the Finnish winter. In many places, you can go dog sledding with huskies, while other popular activities include snowshoeing, ice climbing, ice swimming and ice skating.
Snowmobiles are also typical and are used by many Finns as an off-road means of transport in winter. From the hotel in Iso-Syöte we are on our way to a reindeer herding family’s camp. To ensure the tour participants don’t freeze on the way, they were provided with insulating overalls and warm winter shoes at the hotel.
Upon arrival at the camp, reindeer herder Esa Ukonmaanaho gives an introduction at a fire pit in a log cabin. Reindeer are everywhere in Lapland. “There are more reindeer than people in Lapland,” Esa said. There are around 185,000 humans for every 200,000 of the hoofed animals. Without fences and without gates, they roam through the lonely landscape. They still have an owner; You can tell who they belong to by the marking in the ear.
In December and January, it’s only light for four hours a day
“Twice a year they’re herded together,” Esa explained. Once in summer, to mark the calves while they’re still with their mothers, and in autumn to sort out the animals for slaughter.
The hunt for the northern lights continues further north at the Arctic Circle, near Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland. It gets just four hours of daylight there between December and January. So there should be enough darkness to experience the Aurora Borealis, however, the sky remains cloudy.
Dog sledding is mostly possible regardless of the weather. But don’t be afraid of the huskies. They’re so eager to move that they jump around, barking loudly before heading off.
A dog sled ride takes some getting used to
One person sits on the sled, the other stands on the runners at the back. Only the standing passenger, called the musher, can stop them with a spirited step on the brakes.
A little loop-the-loop and a wrong turn later, things start to get fun. The only thing is that the dogs fart incessantly, with the airstream carrying the flatulence to the rear. Fortunately, there is otherwise enough fresh air.
The last night is starry, it’s minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit). During the walk along the edge of the forest, there is absolute silence. There isn’t any animal wasting its energy on unnecessary movements or senseless flapping at these temperatures. The cold is slowly testing the weaknesses of your winter gear. Time to return to the hotel room?
But then, the arctic fox begins to run across the night sky. Green-grey, the northern lights loom on the horizon and slowly spread out from there. It’s somehow indescribable. The big question waiting for me at home is answered: Yes, I saw them.