North of the sun.

I’ve never flown this far north.
On the moving map a rendition of our aircraft is hurtling down a steep curve, a headfirst plunge along a yellow arc linking London to the Pacific Northwest. We’ve climbed north, past Scotland and Iceland and the dark seas inbetween, peaked above Greenland and now we’re on the descent stage, polar ices still underneath us.
Except we aren’t descending, much in the same way as we haven’t been climbing. We are cruising smoothly at the same altitude, engines purring along in a distant hum. But it’s nice to think of ‘humps’, of climbing up to the Pole and all that jazz.
I take a break from the devilish combination of MS Project and Excel to take a look outside. Of all of those lands that I call “overflight countries”, Greenland is one of those I yearn to see the most. Alas it’s never happened and today isn’t the day either. We’re north of the sun and the full moon isn’t strong enough to illuminate the ice below. All I can see is the methodical pulse of the aircraft’s strobe lights and the reflection of our satellite on the flexing wing. Greenland sleeps in the perennial winter night, its secrets absconded and invisible. I sigh and promise myself to try again in the future before I return to “doing the needful”.
It mightn’t seem so, but this is a daytime flight – take-off from London happened at 14:30, arrival is scheduled for 16:30 local time – and British Airways is enlightened enough to allow passengers to keep their window shades up, unlike certain others who’ll order the hatches battened even if it’s 9AM and everyone is as alert as a meerkat. That’s why, as we cross the tormented parcel of sea sandwiched between the scrum of islands that make Canada’s northern archipelago, I sense a change coming from outside.
The sky’s no longer indigo-black. Behind us night is still queen but we’re past that, flying into an ethereal twilight zone. We are swimming in an atmosphere bluer than Neptune’s and there is enough light to glimpse, down below, a polar landscape of indescribable beauty. White ice runs in monolithic composure everywhere, fissuring here and there, smoothing out and then breaking again under the strain of unseen currents and obstacles.
I strain to look ahead, in our direction of travel (not an easy feat when facing backwards, let me tell you). We are barrelling towards a distant red glow, a band of light at the far end of the horizon. A promise of sunlight and warmth: a few hours away from us, but still months far for the lonesome tundra of Nunavut.
An hour lapses. The red glow has mutated, becoming a golden hue that fills half the sky. I guess it’s not an accident that every civilisation has, at some point, worshipped the sun. Beneath us the panorama is, too, changing. Dark spots pockmarks the ground like a black and white leopard skin. Vegetation, perhaps? But the biggest surprise is what lies in the sky, just behind our wing.
Click on any photo to start the slideshow.
The heavens have turned purple; a band runs across them like on the flank of a marlin. Perhaps it’s the side effect of having spent hours dealing with dreary things such as plans, dependencies and budgetary forecasts, but my mind decides that it’s a last-ditch attempt from the night to lure us back in her reign. But it’s too late.
We emerge into sunlight above an airport. A road leads somewhere, perhaps to the town of Whitehorse. It’s the first sign of humans since we left Scotland. Behind us, in a dramatic reversal of roles, the night has shrunk away into a small wedge of sky. Come back, it seems to plead.
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28 Responses to North of the sun.

  1. Anna says:

    Love the photos, glorious colours!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. J.D. Riso says:

    Greenland captivates my imagination, too. So expensive to go there! Almost as much as Antarctica, and, if I had to choose, it’s the southern polar circle. I once flew very low over Greenland. There was wicked turbulence and the flight from Rejkyavik to Chicago had to fly below it. A 6 hour trip turned into ten, plus a refueling stop in Bangor, Maine, I remember looking down at Greenland: the stunning mountains. Beautiful photos and haunting words, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never read such a colourful description of a flight before. You’re right though, the northern sky is amazing from above. It’s hard to believe those pictures are from a plane!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Flying is so remarkable, isn’t it? Thank you for sharing this flight- the stunning sky and land.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a sweet soulful journey you took us on Fabrizio. I almost felt as if I was there with you. I used to live in Whitehorse, and worked in various places throughout the Yukon. It’s a magical land. Maybe because I lived in the cold and snow for so long (almost 10 years) Greenland is not near the top of my list 🙂
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      You lived in Whitehorse?!? I read it was -34C as I was flying over it. How does that feel?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cold. Chuckle. I lived in Whitehorse for one year, and in a tiny village called Atlin just south of the Yukon border for nearly 8 years. I experienced colder than -40 more than once, and -20 to -30 was normal for winter. Winters are long cold and dark but community is strong, and as long as you have the right clothing it’s fine. I did a lot of XC skiing.

        Liked by 1 person

      • awtytravels says:

        Whoa. I once was at -26C and it was really waaay too much for me. Can’t imagine being at -40.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Glad there’s at least one airline which allows you to open the window shades. A decade ago I got lovely photos of glaciers calving on a northern flight. Now taking a photo like that would be next to impossible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Yeah, and that’s a pity. What’s the point of having windows?! I understand if the flight is taking place at night, or at what would be night at destination/arrival, but….

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Dave Ply says:

    They say a tone poem relates to orchestral music, being a movement with a rhapsodic theme. I think writing can make its own music, as you’ve shown us here (and with illustrations too!)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. lexklein says:

    You already know I’m a window seat gal and that the wonder of air travel and its views never wear off for me. But I’ve never actually been officially told to lower my window shade during the day before. Is that really a thing? At night, for sure. A few passengers have asked me to close the shade during the day but never the airline itself. I would balk! Loved your in-flight musings, as always.

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Well, I’m more an aisle fella these days, especially those where my right arm is on the outside, due to a shoulder injury (unless it’s a posh seat), but I really see what you mean.
      As for the windows, yes: it’s a common thing at least on some Middle Eastern airlines and on Asian ones (Cathay Pacific is a particularly bad one if memory serves me right). Plus on those planes like the 787, with those electromagnetic windows, they just override them to dark! Horrid.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. lexklein says:

    I meant contend with!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I must look out the window more often! The pinks and purples are amazing. Greenland is on my list too!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. equinoxio21 says:

    A tad col for me, but quite beautiful…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. equinoxio21 says:

    Col? ColD…

    Liked by 1 person

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