Northern Light

I’m living in western Europe for awhile. It came as a surprise to me, but not, clearly, to my Father. (More about that later.) It’s the farthest north I’ve ever lived.

We’re at fifty-one degrees north latitude here in northern Belgium, the same latitude as, for example, Hudson Bay. Moscow is only four degrees farther north, as is Novosibirsk, Siberia. It’s July, but if a cold front drops down from the North Sea, the temperature can drop from 85 to 55 overnight.. At fifty-one degrees north latitude, you get brisk autumn days in the middle of July.

But the biggest difference is the light. The sun acts differently this far north. It seems to be traveling across the sky in a normal, middle-latitude manner until it starts to dip toward the horizon. At that point, the whole process of setting first slows down and then stops.

It’s like the sun’s playing peek-a-boo with the horizon. At about 8pm, it dips below it, but it doesn’t really set. Instead it lingers just out of sight, delivering a long, slow twilight that lasts until after 10pm. Two, two-and-a-half hours of twilight. It’s not truly dark until after 11.

I guess I thought vaguely that Europeans were somehow genetically or culturally disposed to be great artists. Now I think it could just be this light–these rich, low slung rays that flow through everything like honey, turning a stand of trees into a shimmering green screen with gold seeping through it.

And God said, “Let there be northern light.” And there was northern light.