The Right Conditions
We left Reykjavik, Iceland at 5 p.m., and because we were flying
west to Boston for five hours at 35,000 feet above the clouds,
I could see one continuous sunset from my window seat. These
were the right conditions for providing me with quite a sight:
unending bands of colors: fiery red, oranges, ochre, gold, pale
green, pure green, and blue greens that blended into cerulean,
then ultramarine, then sapphire, then blue-black. The full spectrum
of colors was there for me to study and admire while squashed
into my seat.
On the other hand, the right conditions were not present the
night we traveled to the southern tip of Iceland to see the
Northern Lights. I was forewarned because the morning we arrived,
there was a full moon casting its eerie light over Reykjavik.
Clouds and fog could not erase that big, white, luminous plate
of light. Even though the weather cleared for the rest of our
stay (clear sky = right condition), the moon would present some
competition in the sky, if we were lucky enough to see the aurora
I did not know if the most important of right conditions
had occurred. Had solar storms sent charged particles 93,000,000
miles to earth two to three days prior to our visit? And, even
though the weather was clear, would there be the necessary cold
and windy conditions? Alas, the temperature during that week
stayed relatively warm, so another condition would not be optimal
for seeing the aurora borealis.
John and I decided to book a Northern Lights excursion and
hope for the best. Remember "Before I die, I want to see
the Northern Lights" (Judy's Journal, 2009 August)?
Who could complain about what we did see? We stood on
the beach, surrounded by benevolent lava formations lit by the
full moon, waves crashing around us, looking at a band of phosphorescent
green glowing on the horizon. Our guide suggested, no, she insisted,
that what we were seeing was a form of the Northern Lights.
Ah, me, what's in a name? as Juliet would say. Whatever
it was, it was lovely. The Big Dipper hung so large and low,
I felt as if I could reach up and touch it. On the opposite
horizon, Venus showed off her most blazing and intense light.
The next day, John and I visited the Listasafn Islands/National
Gallery of Iceland (free admission) and were introduced to an
entire museum filled with paintings by Icelandic artist Svavar
Gudnason (1909-1988). As John pointed out immediately, Gudnason's
work became our Northern Lights display!
An early practitioner of abstract expressionism, Gudnason's
colors fly on his canvases. The museum brochure described his
"personal invention called 'fugue,' after the musical baroque
style indicating a melodic flight." His style is intense,
colorful and musical, rather like Kandinsky gone out of control.
And yet, they can also be read as a sustained, wild homage to
nature. Svavar Gudnason was a member of the COBRA group. If
you are curious, you can Google COBRA, his name and/or visit
this gorgeous museum's web site: www.listasafn.is.
The conditions were right for color in Iceland, but not for
seeing the Northern Lights. Who's complaining? Not me.