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A remarkable appearance of the Aurora Borealis

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‘Later in the evening Hansen came down to give notice of what really was a remarkable appearance of aurora borealis. The deck was brightly illuminated by it, and reflections of its light played all over the ice. The whole sky was ablaze with it, but it was brightest in the south; high up in that direction glowed waving masses of fire. Later still Hansen came again to say that now it was quite extraordinary. No words can depict the glory that met our eyes. The glowing fire-masses had divided into glistening, many coloured bands, which were writhing and twisting across the sky both in the south and north. The rays sparkled with the purest, most crystalline rainbow colours, chiefly violet-red or carmine and the clearest green. Most frequently the rays of the arch were red at the ends, and changed higher up into sparkling green, which quite at the top turned darker and went over into blue or violet before disappearing in the blue of the sky; or the rays in one and the same arch might change from clear red to clear green, coming and going as if driven by a storm. It was an endless phantasmagoria of sparking colour surpassing anything that one can dream.’

Fridtjof Nansen, ‘Farthest North’, 1897

Seeing the Aurora

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“It is impossible to witness such a beautiful phenomenon without a sense of awe and yet this sentiment is not inspired by its brilliancy but rather by its delicacy in light and colour, its transparency, and above all by its tremulous evanescence of form. There is no glittering splendour to dazzle the eye, as has been too often described; rather the appeal is to the imagination by the suggestion of something wholly spiritual…”

Robert Scott, British Antarctic explorer.


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Of bronze and blaze
The north, to-night!
So adequate its forms,
So preconcerted with itself,
So distant to alarms, —
An unconcern so sovereign
To universe, or me,
It paints my simple spirit
With tints of majesty,
Till I take vaster attitudes,
And strut upon my stem,
Disdaining men and oxygen,
For arrogance of them.

My splendors are menagerie;
But their competeless show
Will entertain the centuries
When I am, long ago,
An island in dishonored grass,
Whom none but daisies know.

Emily Dickinson

The Arctic Night

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‘Nothing more wonderfully beautiful can exist than the Arctic night. It is dreamland, painted in the imagination’s most delicate tints: it is colour etherealized. One shade melts into the other, so that you cannot tell where one ends and the other begins, and yet they are all there. No forms – it is all faint, dreamy colour music, a far-away, long-drawn-out melody on muted strings. Is not all life’s beauty high, and delicate, and pure like this night? Give it brighter colours and it is no longer so beautiful. The sky is like an enormous cupola, blue at the zenith, shading down into green, and then into lilac and violet at the edges. Over the ice-fields there are cold violet-blue shadows, with lighter pink tints where a ridge here and there catches the last reflection of the vanished day. Up in the blue of the cupola shine the stars, speaking peace, as they always do, those unchanging friends. In the south stands a large red-yellow moon, encircled by a yellow ring and light golden clouds floating on the blue background. Presently the Aurora Borealis shakes over the vault of heaven its veil of glittering silver – changing now to yellow, now to green, now to red. It spreads, it contracts again, in restless change; next it breaks into waving, many-folded bands of shining silver, over which shoot billows of glittering rays, and then the glory vanishes. Presently it shimmers in tongues of flame over the very zenith, and then again it shoots a bright ray right up from the horizon, until the whole melts away in the moonlight, and it is as though one heard the sigh of a departing spirit. And all the time this utter, stillness, impressive as the symphony of infinitude.’

Fridtjof Nansen
‘Farthest North’ 1897

Communication and recognition

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“My theory is that the purpose of art is to transmit universal truths of a sort, but of a particular sort, that in art, whether it’s poetry, fiction or painting, you are telling the reader or listener or viewer something he already knows but which he doesn’t quite know that he knows, so that in the action of communication he experiences a recognition, a feeling that he has been there before, a shock of recognition. And so, what the artist does, or tries to do, is simply to validate the human experience and to tell people the deep human truths which they already unconsciously know.”

Walker Percy


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‘I prefer to take ‘landscape’ as a collective term for the temperature and pressure of the air, the fall of light and its rebounds, the textures and surfaces of rock, soil and building, the sounds (cricket screech, bird cry, wind through the trees), the scents (pine resin, hot stone, crushed thyme) and the uncountable other transitory phenomena and atmospheres that together comprise the bristling presence of a particular place at a particular moment.’

Robert MacFarlane, ‘The Old Ways’

Gathering treasure

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‘Caminar es atesorar!’
‘To walk is to gather treasure!’

Spanish saying


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The visible reminder of Invisible Light.

T.S. Eliot, Choruses from The Rock

Learning to See

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‘Our perennial spiritual and psychological task is to look at things familiar until they become unfamiliar again.’

GK Chesterton


“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Marcel Proust


‘Seeing is of course very much a matter of verbalization. Unless I call my attention to what passes before my eyes, I simply won’t see it. It is, as Ruskin says, ‘not merely unnoticed, but in the full, clear sense of the word, unseen,’ … I have to say the words, describe what I’m seeing…. But if I want to notice the lesser cataclysms of valley life, I have to maintain in my head a running description of the present.’

Annie Dillard, ‘Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’

Beauty and Desire

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‘What more, you may ask, do we want? Ah, but we want so much more – something the books on aesthetics take little notice of. But the poets and the mythologies know all about it. We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.’

CS Lewis, ‘The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses’


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