North into the light

Print More

(Host) Commentator Nils Daulaire recently returned from a vacation that left him feeling sleep deprived – but happy.

(Daulaire) I never fully appreciated night. Earlier this summer, my wife and I went two weeks without night – without even dusk – and we got to miss it.

We had decided to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary in the far North of Norway, and we got there on a coastal steamer that delivers mail all the way up Norway’s incredible west coast, almost to the Russian border.

Our third day out, the boat passed a little island with a strange sculpture on it: a giant wire globe. It was seven in the morning, bright sunshine, and the boat blew three blasts on its horn. This was the Arctic Circle. With summer solstice only a few days off, we knew the sun wouldn’t dip below the horizon until we had passed that same imaginary line Southbound, two weeks later.

But we had no idea how tiring the midnight sun can be.

When you are onboard a boat chugging northward past some of the most incredible mountains, glaciers, fjords and islands in the world, it’s a shame to miss any of the scenery. And since it was always day, there was no natural reason to miss it. We would slip into our cabin for a catnaps, then rush out on deck to see the next wonder.

We didn’t realize how much the setting of the sun helps to set our bodies’ clocks. For days on end, the sun’s height above the horizon changed hardly at all. As far as our bodies could tell, it was always 10:30 in the morning. At midnight, the sun was still too bright to look at directly. Talk about disorienting.

The other thing that kept us up was wonder. After we finally got off the boat, five miles from the Russian border, we made our way back South by road. Some days we stayed in cod fisherman’s cabins, did a bit of rowboat fishing, and sat out in the cool evening sunlight until three in the morning. Sometimes we drove almost through the darkless night. One memorable evening, we sat at the edge of a trout-filled lake and watched the sun edge downwards toward the mountains in the North, only to skim from west to east along the top of the entire range, never out of sight, until it rose in the sky again a few hours later.

Days later, we were driving across a high, treeless pass when the cell phone rang. Yes, the cell phone. It was our son, calling from Norwich to find out where we had left the mailbox keys. I looked at my watch. It was approaching 11 pm, five p.m. in Vermont. A road sign flashed by: 2 kilometers to the Arctic Circle. Minutes later, we pulled off at yet another giant wire globe, finished our conversation with our son, and saw, for the first time in two weeks, the sun kiss the horizon.

At last we would be able to get some shut-eye.

This is Nils Daulaire in Norwich. And I gotta get back to sleep.

Doctor Nils Daulaire is president of the Global Health Council, headquartered in White River Junction. He came to us today from our studio in Norwich.

Comments are closed.