For centuries, people have tried and failed to describe the experience of standing under the northern lights. Viewers have been exhilarated, moved to tears, surprised into stunned silence as undulating ribbons of green light dance across the sky. Among other things, Aristotle described them as “jumping goats.” The Norse epic Kongespeilet calls them “a vast flame of fire.” Galileo called the spectacle as the northern dawn or boreale aurora. Mythologies and superstitions rose throughout the north to describe what, until the 20th century, was a mystery only explicable by the intervention of a divine being.
I’ve been fortunate enough to view the phenomenon while traveling in Minnesota, Iceland, and Norway. But what I’ve seen was a shifting emerald mist along the northern horizon. Make no mistake, it’s always beautiful. However, when we talk about the northern lights as a bucket list event, you want to stand in under the luminescence of streaks so bright they cast shadows on the ground. This wasn’t something I had seen.
To get that experience, you need to be immensely lucky, or you need to chase them, centering a trip around the aurora. Even still, it’s a roll of the dice. You might be wowed, or you might not see anything at all.
For Americans in the contiguous states, chasing the northern lights means traveling north to Alaska, Iceland, Norway, Greenland, Finland, northern Russia, or, in my case, Sweden. I went to the Swedish Lapland with Visit Lapland, a company that connects travelers with experiences throughout the region, as my guide, hunting the northern lights.