You’d think it would be hard to get used to the extremes of light and dark, but the funny thing is that the opposite seems to be the case. The brain adapts very quickly, and apart from a general reluctance for the body clock to admit that any time would be a reasonable time to go to sleep, everything feels perfectly normal. Light all night for weeks of the summer, the sun shining from the north into our bedroom window, it just feels normal.
Nothing here, though, stays the same for long – the shortening and lengthening days happen at breakneck pace. The official end of the ‘midnight sun’ is in July (the date uncertain because it depends where in relation to the nearby mountains you are). The sun begins to dip beneath the horizon, briefly, towards the end of July, and sinks a little more every day. The descent is slight, so twilight hours are long and light. So it continues to feel like it is light all night way into August. A bad weather day can suddenly make the difference though – lots of cloud in the twilight hours can feel dark. It’s a sad feeling – one gets addicted to light and the body doesn’t want it to go away, even for an hour or two.
Actually for a week in mid-August Kiruna feels very dark indeed for a few hours each night. This is partly because one isn’t used to it, but also because the street lights are still not on. When the twilight is dim, the lack of street lights contrast with midwinter when, in total darkness, the street lights are ablaze. So this week in August is the darkest Kiruna streets ever get.
Then comes that sad day – around 14th August – when the dimness of the twilight is deemed to be dark enough for the street lights to come on for a couple of hours. We feel the dull impact of the dark sky, and long for that pale blue feeling above and the ‘light without shadows’. You know that winter is on its way in, and the mosquitoes on their way out. It’s a mixed blessing.
We had planned a trip to Stockholm for a few days this week. It’s a city we know well and where we used to live. We were prepared for the shock of the crowds, the noise, the busyness, the streets, the traffic. But one is never really prepared for the difference in light. Our brains in Kiruna had fooled us into thinking we were already experiencing darkness, when all we really had was twilight. In Stockholm it was if someone had suddenly put a hood over our heads. When you looked across the street, you couldn’t see anything, except a street light. Here was real darkness, black velvet darkness, with stars. What a shock.