When you travel the world you create a life full of "once-in-a-lifetime" experiences. Even so, there are still certain moments that rise above the rest. These are the moments that, for whatever reason, held a certain power over you. Throughout the years their weight never lessens. You continue to go back to them over and over again in your mind because they are the moments that remind you why it is you do what you do. They are the moment that make you realize why you could never settle into a "normal" life. They are the moments that remind you why travel called to you in the first place. Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland was one of those moments.
How I found the Northern Lights in Iceland
The odds were far from being in my favor. The Northern Lights in Iceland are supposed to start showing up around early September and only on cloudless nights. I was going to be in Iceland August 30th through September 4th and the forecast was all clouds. But I am prone to optimism, so I kept my eye on the Northern Lights forecast anyway.
There was a small chance of seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland on August 31st. On that night there was going to be a tiny break in the clouds and as luck (or, as I've taken to calling it, my travel karma) would have it that tiny break was going to take place directly over where I was planning to be on the 31st.
August 31st came and I decided to rent a car to explore the Golden Circle (more on that later). The day was full of wanders. Having been to 30 countries I like to believe I've seen a good amount of what there is to see, but Iceland was challenging everything I thought I understood about beauty and nature.
The whole country seemed to be a display of the kind of natural utopia I would have assumed was impossible and I couldn't take my eyes off the rainbows, waterfalls, lakes, and glaciers that waited around every corner. Even the colors were unlike any I had seen in my years of travel. It was all so mesmerizing that I almost forgot about the Northern Lights.
Almost. But not quite. I knew that they were supposed to be visible somewhere between Vik and Selfoss. I was staying in Selfoss, but I had a late dinner in Vik and intended to drive back to Selfoss after midnight when the sky would be completely dark. If I was lucky I would see some lights on my way home.
Well, the restaurant closed at 11pm and I knew I had about an hour until the sky would get dark enough for my liking. In the meantime I decided to kill time by driving around a nearby peninsula.
Around 11pm I noticed some strange looking clouds
Most of the clouds in the sky were nearly black. They loomed in the distance with an imposing stillness. They were thick and full and lifeless. But the cloud that caught my attention wasn't like that. It was nearly white. It was long and thin and reached from one horizon, across the sky, and disappeared behind the other horizon.
What amazed me the most was the way it moved.
It seemed to be dancing across the sky, shifting with every breath of wind. I had never seen a cloud move like that. I parked my car to watch the show. As I stared at the moving cloud the sky got darker and the cloud began to gather a sort of greenish glow to it.
That's when I realized I was looking at the Northern Lights
To my surprise I started crying. And not the gentle choked up crying I would be able to ignore or tell myself hadn't happened. These were fat, wet tears that streamed down my cheeks. I couldn't control myself; I was borderline sobbing.
I was also laughing and yelling expletives that I wont write here, all the while wiping the endless tears off my cheeks. I was feeling something I had never felt before. Was it joy? Ecstasy? Disbelief? I wasn't sure.
Finally I calmed down enough to hear my own thoughts. Totally alone in a parked car in the middle of nowhere in Iceland, I spoke out loud to myself. "How did you get here? You are just a random girl from Danville, California. There's no reason you should be here. You are 23-barely a full adult-and yet here you are seeing something too many people will never get the chance to dream of, let alone see for themselves. And this is only one of so many unbelievable things you have seen. How the eff did you get here??"
And that's when I realized what it was I was feeling.
Pure, unadulterated gratitude. Gratitude for the life I was born into, for the dreams I've pursued, for the support I've had along the way. But most of all I felt a simple gratitude for the opportunity to exist in a world as beautiful as this one. And in that moment, though saying it out loud now it feels cliché and dumb, but in that moment I felt I was gazing at something truly divine.
Call it God. Call it Allah. Call it Universal Consciousness. Call it Oneness. Call it Science. I don't care.
I call it Nature.
But a rose by any other name does smell as sweet and in that moment as the world put on a light show unlike anything any artist could ever create I knew I was seeing something larger than me. Something larger than all of us. And for that, I will forever be filled with gratitude.