How to Turn 40.

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There were a lot of parties, and nice words and hilarious tributes. There were balloons and flowers. And then I was old.

I don’t think I ever really thought I’d go to Iceland. It was one of those things that happened. My ultra-Orthodox travel agent (who is usually just a bit judgmental) approved my plan but couldn’t book us tickets. So I backburnered the plan. But the world of travelocity, kayak and expedia showed up to get us to the most Northern capital city in the world, Reykjavik. So we went.

For some reason that even I’m not sure of, I watched the movie Twister a whole bunch of times. It was Helen Hunt and that other guy chasing after tornados using science and sheer will. That is what it is like to look for the Northern Lights. And that’s all I wanted to see. I’m a self-professed weather geek and this seemed weather-y (though it is really just science-y) and awesome. The Northern Lights are on an 11 year cycle and this year, specifically this January, was supposed to be spectacular. Only you aren’t guaranteed a sighting. In fact, on our flight over,  Ethan Todras-Whitehill mocked my plans in his article Chasing the Northern Lights where he and his family tried to see the lights and didn’t. Not a very auspicious beginning.

David and I vacation differently. David brought his sour dough starter with him so he could make fresh bread every morning. He asked so many questions about the kitchen in our rental apartment, that the owner of the hotel told him she thought he was planning on coming to Reykjavik to build a bomb. David would wake up every morning and go jogging in the freezing cold darkness and come back exuberant. He’d cook these great dinners every night using the meat we brought with us from Israel. I read a lot of books and discovered that the only show on Icelandic TV was the Big Bang Theory.  And then we’d tour in the 5 1/2 hours of light each day and go out each night looking for the Northern Lights.

It’s more complicated than it sounds. You need to hire someone who knows stuff to take you. The first night we went out there were fireworks going off around the country. It was the 12th night after Christmas, also known as elf night in Iceland (I know it sounds like I’m wrong but there is this strong affinity towards elves and hidden people in Iceland. Weird, right? Another weird thing? No one in Iceland has a last name). We saw some of the Northern Lights which were cool but not awesome.

Our second night out had us with another guide. Our first guide was named Jon (pronounced Yawn which is a good way to describe him). Our second guide, Siggy, brought his girlfriend and an app or two that they used to track where the Northern Lights would show up. We left at 7:30 at night and just drove around the country hunting them down. At some point, I actually offered up a little prayer. It seemed crazy to travel so far and come back empty-handed. And then there it was. It starts off hazy and dull across the sky and then grows deeper and more colorful. It moves from a horizontal line to vertical lines and then it just dances around you. I can’t do it justice. I’ll say this: it was so beautiful that I could have cried except that it was so cold the tears would have frozen on to my cheeks. We stood outside until we thought we would freeze and then we kept standing there. When it disappeared, we got back into the car and drove a bit more and watched the lights reappear and we got out again, set up the tripod, took well-intentioned pictures, froze again and just watched and watched until it disappeared.

Everyone should turn 40 this way (or whatever age you’re turning this year). You should be adventurers, explorers and stand in awe of something. I spend a lot of time in my life doing laundry. This was infinitely better.

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