The day before we returned to Kiruna we were watching aurora on my laptop, images sent ‘real time’ from the local Institute of Space Physics.
Watching this you don’t get the movement of the lights, so it doesn’t feel like the real thing – but you can imagine how beautiful it must have been, as the picture updates with another soft green shape spread across the sky.
For reasons that scientists haven’t yet fathomed, the aurora is more active in early winter and late spring. Since the beginning of October, ‘aurora alerts’ have been jumping into my mailbox daily – ‘in the past 15 mins there was a major solar flare on the sun with a class of M6.34’ – the kind of alerts that in winter would have me rushing for the door, if it was dark enough, and in winter it usually is.
Before you start thinking this is a guide to that mythical thing, The Best Time To See The Northern Lights, I must disappoint you. Early winter and late spring it’s warmer, and the prevailing weather is more humid, more cloudy. Since returning to Kiruna we have not seen the northern lights at all because have been sitting in a low snow mist. ‘It’s a cheese!’ I complain, after checking up on the image on the internet.
A low snow mist also means snow on the ground, which means the winter’s shovelling exercise has now begun.
Already on our return, after only three weeks away, it took us a day to clear enough snow away to reach our car in the garage. I have described before the meditative exercise that is shovelling snow – it really is enjoyable, if you can relax, not be in a hurry, and work with nature not against it. It has the same quality as gardening – that is, it’s a task that never ends, so if you enjoy it you can experience it again, and again, and again. (As I commented with childish enthusiasm when we first moved in looking out over our large snowy backyard, ‘all this snow – it’s all ours!’ How very true that was.)
I’ve been used to snowfall in England that you would be lucky to be able shovel at all, its melting rate being equal to its falling rate. Snow in Kiruna, on the other hand, will probably not melt tomorrow, or next week, or next month, in fact not for six months. That means that the snow is given to you, for a time, to look after, before nature takes it back. So the snow really is ours. Nice, but where do you put it all?
At first you can push it to the side, in small heaps. Pushing snow is no problem, at first. Then more snow falls, and the heaps get bigger, and it becomes harder to deposit snow on top of the heap. By this time your heap has frozen solid, so there’s no way you can push the heap further away to give you more space to dump snow. If you take the short term view when snow shovelling, by December you’re defeated and will need to call (and pay) the big boys (or girls) to come in (snow tractor to lift up your heaps and push them further away).
Last winter the ‘flu got us in January, and suddenly there was far too much snow to deal with. We couldn’t leave the car in the garage, so the winter involved long painful sessions removing ice from the windscreen and windows, inside and out. This year, we decided, we would keep the car in the garage.
So, at the start of the season – now – we must make paths to the outer reaches of our backyard and make sure all the snow is deposited as far away from the driveway as possible. We need a strategy – agreed with our snow shovelling partner – as to how and when we will open up and fill up various areas. (How annoying is it to open up an area for future snow storage, only to find that your partner has used it as a short term fix and already filled it up with snow?).
It’s a team exercise, and it feels good this year. We have our strategy, we’ve begun well, we’re on top of the current snowfall and we’re determined to keep it that way over the winter. Watch This Space.