Monday 21 December 2015

The Crane Bird Aurora - Night Sky Magic and Messages in the Finnish Far North

Arriving in Muonio, Finnish Lapland, with its very short hours of daylight in winter and extensive pine forests, one can believe that, of the many present-day etymological theories on the subject, the reason why Finland got its name was because it was thought to be where the known world 'finishes'.
Snow-covered pine trees in Pallas-Yll√§stunturi National Park, Finland

Similar to what I have found on meditation retreats in forests, within the heavily snowed pine-forest landscape of Pallas-Yll√§stunturi National Park , there is no obvious horizon. An effect that this can sometimes enable on the mind is that one's mirror neurons begin to turn towards you and where you immediately are. Whereas with a horizon, one may wonder what is on the other side, perhaps questioning whether the 'grass is greener', that you may forget what you have not only where you are but within also.

Peering upwards through the trees though and looking over the frozen lakes, there is something though that has aroused human curiosity for thousands of years, the night sky. Following a rainy Christmas market in the capital Helsinki and after checking the local weather forecast for Muonio which suggested cloudy skies with intermittent snow, I was surprised to see a clear night sky during my first night in Muonio. But quite often though, when looking for clear skies for astronomical purposes it can be that the weather forecast and the weather as it happens are two very different things. In Lapland, weather conditions can change very quickly from one extreme to another, making it difficult to provide an accurate forecast. I also heard from the local aurora forecast that solar activity had been very strong over the last two days, which meant that there was a good chance that the Aurora Borealis could appear.

After experiencing a glimpse of the lights from Tromso, Norway, a year ago with a professional aurora chaser and photographer, I was eager to see a clearer and hopefully brighter aurora display from Muonio in the far north of Finland. During my first night in Muoni, I went down to the banks of nearby Lake Jeris, wrapped up warmly in temperatures of around -10 degrees to practice astrophotography techniques with a recently acquired digital single lens reflex camera and tripod. Using an exposure of 15 seconds, used by most astrophotographers as it is the right balance to allow enough light from the stars without making trail movements, when playing back my images, I spotted a green tinge that I didn't immediately see with the naked eye. But refocusing my eyes on the sky, after a few minutes, a faint glow of green slowly began to reveal itself. This time, I had found my own way to the Aurora!

The Aurora Borealis seen from the banks of Lake Jeris, Finland
But it was on the second night of my stay that the lights more than just merely turned up, but they were spectacularly bright. Once again, I had the fortune of a clear sky at just the right time indicated by the huge number of stars that appeared, making some of the constellations less obvious. The longer hours of darkness north of the Arctic Circle also contribute to a prolonged display of aurora activity. After noticing a glint of green from my cabin window, walking down to the same spot where I had been the previous night, the lights truly began to reveal themselves.

A Crane Bird-shaped Aurora, Lake Jeris, Finland
After applying my external attention and noticing to appreciate what I felt was being present at the 'Greatest Show on Earth', for a brief moment I then took a step back and turned my attention inwards. applying the effect that the forest location initially had on me upon arrival. As well as being able to get in touch with one's feelings and emotion through focusing attention inwards, one can also get in touch with their creative side. Of the shapes I noticed that the Aurora appeared in that night, one resembled an origami crane bird that I had made in Japan. 

Memorial to Sadako and her 1,000 crane birds, Hiroshima, Japan
The crane bird became an international symbol of peace in Japan after Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl in who was two-years-old when the atomic bomb was dropped on her native Hiroshima 70 years ago this year in 1945. Exposure to radiation during the blast and its aftermath saw Sadako develop leukemia in 1954. Following treatment, Sadako was given at most a year to live and in that time, she learned how to make origami crane birds and together with her room-mate, made a thousand crane birds upon which she made a wish to recover from her illness. Sadly, Sadako's wish never came true, but the legacy she left leaves us with a warning to humanity of what technology we have invented can do to us if we use it for destructive purposes.

That night, as well as an obvious sight of beauty, I also felt that in the run-up to Christmas, the Aurora brought a message, to live in peace, thus helping find happiness within.

Merry Christmas Everybody, and a Happy, Peaceful New Year!

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