Aurora Borealis: Waiting for the Light

Aurora Borealis: Waiting for the Light
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Frederic Edwin Church, Aurora Borealis, 1865
Frederic Edwin Church, Aurora Borealis, 1865

1

I’ve never been as petrified; not in my adult life.

I’ve spent all this money, coming to one of the most expensive countries in the world, and for what? Why haven’t I just gone somewhere where the sights never move, where you’re guaranteed to get what you pay for?

I don’t understand science and the skies. I almost failed my Physics A-Level; I was surprised when I didn’t. All that stuff going on, further away than I will ever get to, at speeds faster than I know how to write down. I don’t understand how anybody understands it; can prove it.

What if they don’t come out?

2

In England, I can get a mobile phone signal. I sit on a train among the congregated commuters, our necks all bent in prayer towards our smartphones. Real prayer is a thing of the past, because waiting is a thing of the past; expectation is a thing of the past. We have no need for a God when almost everything we want is just a couple of clicks away.

Norway is probably the last place I prayed; not to a God, but just to myself. “Please let the lights come out tonight.”

Norway is probably the last place I wanted something that I couldn’t make happen at the click of a button.

I’ve got a cold and I blow into a tissue. The snot is albumen white seasoned with train-track dirt and the hue of exhaust fumes. When you hear the word snot, you instantly think green.

3

I am stuck next to a paranoid Dutch couple on the bus to where I am staying. I think they are here on some kind of package. They come to Norway all the time, but they’ve never seen the lights. The bus left late because I couldn’t find where it was parked.

When we arrive at the hotel after a 90-minute drive, another guest tells us about the excellent display half an hour before we arrived. He shows us his pictures, on a slideshow on his computer, in a dark corner of the hotel bar.

“Beautiful pictures. I don’t think we see another display like that tonight,” the Dutch wife says, and looks at me.

The hotel manager gives me the key to my room. I put it in the door and turn it. The room looks nothing like it does on the website. It fucking stinks.

Hope is the only key to the door of disappointment.

4

The train carriage seats and floor are lined with free newspapers every morning, every evening. I’ve heard everything already, that morning on the radio, or during the day at work. Everything is stated in infinitives or the present tense. Ferguson to quit. Cameron to cut short Paris trip. Thatcher dies. Two days later the news still tells us that she dies. News is either so new it hasn’t happened, or so old it isn’t new at all.

Nothing exists in the past tense, in the future tense. We live in some eternal, on-going moment.

5

Expectation (n): belief that something will happen or be the case.

People go on holiday to see things, to get sun tans, to relax, to drink wine, to fuck. People go on holiday because their boss says here’s 25 days of holiday, use them.

In Norway, you can’t buy wine from supermarkets, you have to go to a special state-run shop. The nearest one to me is eight miles away, and I don’t have a car.

The temperature in the Arctic Circle will not get above 0°C.

There is little more to see than snow, lakes, trees, the wooden houses of the people who live here.

I’m constantly worrying about whether the lights will come out.

1+2+3

When I was a child and used to believe in God, I liked the idea that someone was there to sort out everything I didn’t understand and couldn’t do anything to change. I liked the idea that no matter how much you fuck everything up, it will all be OK in the end.

5+4-1-1

I did my research before I came. This is the most likely time to see them. This is the peak of the solar cycle. But the clouds don’t pay attention to the solar cycle; they can still get in your way.

The hotel displays a cloud forecast on a board each morning. I look at it before breakfast. 30% cloud cover is what we need, preferably less. Tonight the forecast is 75 – 80%.

8

Photography of the Northern Lights can often capture more spectacular results than the human eye. This is because cameras can be set for a long exposure, so even chalky whisps of aurora will come out as streaks of snotty green. People don’t know the aurora can often appear only as chalky whisps, because it is impossible for a photograph or a TV camera to capture this (I think). People don’t know the aurora can often appear only as chalky whisps, because photographers and TV cameramen are not interested in capturing this.

I blink all the time. I am myopic. My peripheral vision is terrible.

You should use a tripod and a fish-eye lens when shooting the northern lights.

6+5-2

People moan at me and call me a pessimist, a stick in the mud. What’s so bad about being a pessimist? That way, you are never disappointed.

The philosopher Roger Scruton wrote in The New York Times: “We can trace the major disasters of 20th century politics to the impeccably optimistic doctrines of Marx, Lenin, Mao.”

Hope (n): a feeling of expectation and desire

A pessimist can never be disappointed. It’s Pascal’s Wager for a world that has outgrown God.

9+1

The lights aren’t going to come out, but it will be nice if they do.

9+2

In the paper, I read that Bradford are playing Swansea, a team three leagues above them, in the football league cup final. I don’t watch the game, but I can imagine the Bradford fans being interviewed outside Wembley. “We’re just looking forward to the day out, and if we win, even better.” This is exactly the kind of things that football fans say in this situation. This is exactly the kind of thing that TV channels show football fans saying in this situation.

12

Prayer (n): A solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or another deity; an earnest hope or wish.

5+8     

Cloud cover is forecast at only 20 per cent tonight. I see the paranoid Dutch couple next to the board. “We see the lights tonight. For sure.”

If a holiday company had the slogan, Expect the Expected, would that be appealing?

When you see the northern lights on TV, they move really fast, like snakes sliding through grass or someone firing off a load of streamers. This is called time-lapse photography.

14                                                                                              

Bradford lost 5-0.

(2×8)-1

God (n): A superhuman being or spirit worshipped as having power over nature or human fortunes.

If you ask someone for a famous quote about God, they’ll probably think of Voltaire’s: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”

Someone invented God. Now he has been outdated by other inventions.

16

If we get what we expect, what is left to expect?

Where will I go on holiday next year?

Ian Shine

About Ian Shine

Ian Shine lives in southeast London and works as a sub-editor. His short stories have appeared in publications including The Stinging Fly, the National Flash Fiction Day anthologies for 2013 (Scraps) and 2014 (Eating My Words), The Fiction Desk anthology Because of What Happened, Belleville Park Pages, Firewords and Stories for Homes, a collection of stories put together to raise money for homelessness charity Shelter.

Ian Shine lives in southeast London and works as a sub-editor. His short stories have appeared in publications including The Stinging Fly, the National Flash Fiction Day anthologies for 2013 (Scraps) and 2014 (Eating My Words), The Fiction Desk anthology Because of What Happened, Belleville Park Pages, Firewords and Stories for Homes, a collection of stories put together to raise money for homelessness charity Shelter.

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