The Earth's Shadow by Barry Harper

The arctic dusk slowly descended and I watched as the sun gradually dipped towards the horizon. I didn't realise it, but I was about to witness a precious life experience that I would never forget.


Owing to the spectacular enormity of what was happening around me I stopped, and stood transfixed, watching the dusky sky change dramatically before me. It was a great surprise, and I felt privileged to watch the beauty of what was unfolding.


The majestic flaming sun went from pale yellow to bright red and then to an intense scarlet, growing fatter as it sank like a tumbling red beach ball into the horizon. It was as though it was reluctant to disappear from view. Darkness descended, to the point of an eerie blackness, and everything was crystal clear, with no light pollution for hundreds of miles in any direction.


I watched as the sun set in the west, and half the sky turned a beautiful rich crimson and burgundy, the shade of which I had only ever seen in a narrow strip of rainbow. As the twilight deepened I was aware of something happening in the opposite direction. I looked east and saw a dark band of magnificent deep violet rising above the horizon, I had never seen this stunningly beautiful colour before. Where crimson met violet there was a small overlap of the full breadth of opulent rainbow hues.


This spectacular violet shade found in the eastern sky, is called the ‘Earth’s Shadow.’ It occurs where the Earth casts its shadow from the sun’s rays onto its own atmosphere, and always appears on the opposite side to the sunset. It can best be seen near to the Earth’s geographic poles in exceptionally clear conditions where there is a long uninterrupted horizon.


I felt a tingling down my spine, and goosebumps, and momentarily lost my breath, but knew this pulsating sensation was not caused by the extreme cold, as I could also feel a warm glow on my skin. With elation, I realised that this was not just a visual experience it was also an intensely emotional one. Feeling like I could laugh and cry at the same time, it was like re-living my whole life in just a few intense seconds. My legs felt like jelly, and I almost lost balance on the ice.


I could not believe the magnificence of what I saw. I felt special and had to pinch myself to check that I was still awake. I came to the conclusion that if this is what heaven is like then we have nothing to fear! Lost in time, my very being was overcome by this precious moment.


The phenomenon must have lasted for about five minutes, then seemed to be over almost as soon as it had begun. Suddenly, just like a camera flash, the shining ice below the sun seemed to come alive with the reflection of a rich splash of colour, almost as if an artist had just thrown the remains of his palette onto the sparkling white canvas.


As the setting sun reluctantly disappeared from view the remarkable colours slowly began to fade into darkness. Then as if at a pre-ordained signal, the stars lit up the night sky like a cascade of sparkling diamonds, each with its own infinitesimal myriad of beautiful shimmering colours. I was surprised because these had not been evident before, and neither had the bright crescent-shaped moon, which seemed to glow like a beacon guiding our lonely path in the darkened night sky.


I hadn't realised, but my colleagues had also slowed down to watch the unfolding scene. My head was still full of this beautiful imagery as we began to ski, following Mike in orderly single file. I felt full of life, enthusiastic, revitalised, and with renewed energy. The gods were watching over us and guiding our route into the unknown. I began to feel at one with the environment, and the universe