Kylo Ren sits before the deformed mask of his grandfather Darth Vader and, masked head in gloved hand, has an existential crisis. Strangely, I sort of know what he means. Every so often I do feel the need for illumination, to head north and revel in the light of an arctic summer.
I am watching the latest Star Wars film at the cinema with my best buddy from school. I’m loving it, but then I am a fan and have been since I was four years old. I won’t grow out of it and will never tire of the Tie Fighter’s scream or the clash of lightsabers. I still have some of the childhood toys my mum got me after enduring freezing Christmas queues outside a well-known catalogue shop upon learning via the mum grapevine that a delivery was due.
On the train home from the cinema I am thinking about travel to the light of the far north and the adventures I have had chasing Red Knots hundreds of miles above the arctic circle. As the train clatters along the tracks back towards the Patch from the big city I feel that urge to move, to travel, to head north. I feel it too Kylo. A call from the light.
It turns out I have a case of Zugunruhe. This is not as bad as it sounds. The Knots get it too, as do all migratory animals. Zugunruhe is the restlessness that migrants feel before they set off on their journeys, usually triggered by hormonal changes in response to altering day lengths (there is so much more to migration triggers than this but it would not be possible to present it all here – it is truly fascinating though and worth some research if you have the time and inclination).
Okay, so my case of itchy feet is for selfish reasons, excitement and adventure rather than the imperative to breed, but even so I am self-diagnosing an acute case of Zugunruhe with the only cure a trip to the frozen north of Norway to photograph Red Knots.
Tickets booked, bags packed.
I’m on the train again - this time to the airport. My headphones are in and I’m staring at the countryside flashing by the window. I love the change of landscape as you move, either watching it from the train or seeing it for the first time that you step off a plane. That newness, the feeling of exploration, of finding something different. That display I once saw in Copenhagen airport looms large in my mind’s eye again. “To travel is to live”.
The MP3 player selects a new track. Marvo Ging by the Chemical Brothers. As it plays I sense that feeling again. The persussion of the song fall in synch with the beats of the train over the tracks. The loops and samples, the slidy sitar guitar loop. It amplifies the sense of movement, the travel, the prospect of adventure. It is an irresistible feeling. The ear worm works its way into my brain. I start to tap my feet.
The Knots will be feeling the Zugunruhe right now. They will be fuelling up for the trek north, to our rendez-vous in Porsanger. As I recheck my passport pocket again they will be having no such thoughts about borders and customs. They seem like much more relaxed travellers, they enjoy truly free movement.
I’m meeting up with others in Norway but I am making my way there on my own. I quite like solo travel. I sit in the airport café drinking surprisingly decent coffee and watching people scurry around the departure lounge. I love this, spotting holiday makers, hen parties and businessmen, seeing real lives being led by people from all over the globe.
Doing this reminds me that whoever we are, wherever we are from and wherever we are going we are all really just the same. Eat, sleep, move, repeat. As trite and clichéd as all the “one world” stuff sounds, fundamentally it is true. Our differences are only superficial and actually make things a lot more interesting. Ignoring the duty free, I people watch before boarding my flight to the light.
The Knots beat me north. I encounter my first flock on the way from the airport to our digs for the first night. I catch up with many thousands more over the next week, literally catching some on two occasions. The chance to contribute to the colour ringing project on these birds is great; the accumulation of knowledge feels as good as the travel and adventure. I take pictures too, many thousands of these inspiring travellers before I have to head home to the muddy banks of the Dee.
Back to today and I’m on a train again, this time returning from a catch up and a bite to eat with an old buddy. The light is fading and it’s hard to see much from the train window. I push my earphones deeper into my ears to obliterate the inane chatter from some xenophobic and ill-informed idiots in the seats opposite. There are all fashion shirts, fashion beards and that awful confidence in their own ignorance.
A Charlatans song fades out and Marvo Ging comes on. The beats match the train and I get that feeling again. The north beckons once more, this time with my family. The excitement builds, I start to tap my feet.
I feel it again, the call to light.