These days the sun is always below the horizon (the definition of ‘polar night’) but its reflection above the horizon for half an hour is enough to fool you into thinking it has reappeared. Early arctic explorers trapped in the sea ice celebrated wildly at the beginning of January, convinced the sun had returned, when it was just an optical illusion. We’ll have to wait a while longer to see the sun, but in the meantime this ‘light without shadows’ is intriguing. Uplighting is what it is. There’s no focus, no highlight, just an atmospheric glow.
Either side of the brief appearance of the sun’s reflection is a reflection of a kind of sunrise and sunset, so the sky is a wash of red and violet, fading into pink and blue. It’s the time to be out somewhere, looking at the sky, soaking up the light and colour. The shades can be subtle, so close in hue that there are no outlines, just blurred smudges of colour. When the air is more humid it’s like someone has poured water over a painting and all the colours wash into each other, leaving an impression of only one shade – usually blue.
The blue is the reflection back through clear ice and snow, and the clear air means that, ironically, it’s harder to work out what you are looking at, especially to discern distance. Looking across a frozen river at land on the other side it is impossible to say if it is an hour’s or a day’s trek away, and that black rock poking up through the snow could be just nearby, and half a metre high, or far away and many metres higher. It’s disorienting, but enchanting.
A few days ago at this time we travelled down one of the four roads out of Kiruna. Two of those roads are dead ends, and this was one of those, following the river down the valley to its source at the foot of the ‘fjäll’. The river is frozen, but in places the narrowness of the channel keeps it flowing, creating rising and drifting mists which add to the magic of the twilight. At one point we saw the dark figure of an elk standing in the road in the distance. When our car headlights reached her she lumbered through the snow to join her calf, hidden in the birch scrub. Animals like the poor visibility of the twilight hours.
This time of the day – between 11 and just after noon – is a sharp contrast to the jet black darkness that descends on us for the rest of the 24 hours, but it’s enough for me to feel uplifted – enough to be able to say that I don’t think I am badly affected by the darkness. Stories of people going mad and slashing each others with knives is fortunately an experience of polar night I haven’t witnessed in Kiruna.