The Magic of the Northern Lights

Life is a series of moments; continuous and unyielding. Every now and then we can seemingly slow down time and appreciate an event that is somehow outstanding, special, and memorable. For me life is about the beautiful moments and travel can often inspire these powerful experiences just as nature can inspire the soul.

When I think about what makes Gondwana Ecotours special, I often think about the meticulous planning and research and the desire to do good. I think about the carbon offsetting, about the local businesses we benefit, about the people we help support. But at the end of the day, it is the magical moments that stick out to me the most.

Two nights ago was the last night of my Alaska: Northern Lights Ecotour, in Fairbanks, Alaska. My co-guide, Mike Long and I, had a smaller group this time, allowing us to really get to know our guests. There were sled dog puppies, moose, sunrises, sunsets, hot springs, glasses of wine, feasts, beers, laughs, and walking with reindeer. But it was one moment in particular that will stick with me forever.

It was about 10pm and we had just returned from our final group dinner on the trip. When I walked outside to check for any aurora activity, I noticed one of our guests, Barbara, standing outside of her room, staring at the stars contently. Barbara, an older guest, had yet to see the Northern Lights, even though most of us had seen them the night before. That night required a little hike to a spot where the Aurora was easily visible to the naked eye, and without leaving the warmth of the lodge, she wanted to take her chances catching the Aurora. I was hopeful that we would see some aurora activity that night. While outside gazing at the sky, I asked her if she could see the Aurora, which was faintly present to her left, and she told me “No, but not to worry, I know you can’t just snap your fingers and make them appear. Regardless, the stars look beautiful and I have been absolutely delighted by this entire trip.” This statement was the embodiment of the woman I had come to know over the past few days: positive, understanding and appreciative of what life gave her. I told Barbara that I wished I could just snap my fingers for her, and that I was glad she enjoyed the trip. It had been a real pleasure having her, and I told her I would like to take a long-exposure picture of her with the lights so she could see them in a photo if nothing else.

I walked inside and grabbed my camera and tripod and as I came back out. In less than two minutes, the sky had changed. A vivid green streak began to appear exactly behind where Barbara was standing. It seemed too good to be true, surely Barbara must be seeing this I thought! I ran over to her and pointed and she smiled at me and no words were needed. I felt as if she was a family member there with me, like my own grandmother, and a powerful chill ran through me, and it wasn’t from the cold weather. I had just shared a moment with a new friend, a moment where the universe seemed to stop moving and wink at us as if to say “smile.” I snapped the photo of her and the aurora, but not even my expensive camera could capture the connection I felt with my job, nature, and the world in that moment. Thanks Barbara, for teaching me patience and appreciation, and that no matter what age, there is always room for a new first. #SoulTravelers