I was a little late driving to work this morning, just before 9 am. The sky was clear and everything lit up with the pink predawn glow. (Just a week ago, it was still dark at 9.) I drove the long way to work, along the harbor where I can look across at Mt Esja. The bulb of the orange moon was just rising over Esja's western flank, and it was the picture of a perfect winter morning in Iceland.
But it got even better. I came past some buildings, looked out my driver's-side window, and through the smudges of salt on the glass saw something I have never seen before. Whatever I was seeing was making the aurora borealis look like an actor in a bad B-movie, a poor player strutting and fretting upon the skystage.
Because high in the blue-pink sky over to the east were three clouds lit up in dazzling rainbow colors, shining like brilliant beacons. It was jaw-droppingly gorgeous. It was impossible to believe. They had a strong feel of a 1960s aesthetic. If Jimi Hendrix designed a cloud, it would look like these. These clouds had blues and pinks and neon greens, every color in oily streaks, like the brilliant inside of an oyster shell, or the keys of a cosmic saxophone. They were positively hallucinogenic.
The race was on. I had to get to work and get my camera to try and capture them. If I have learned anything in Iceland, I have learned that everything can look completely different in a minute or two. Cars in front of me seemed to be crawling along, and I was using every trick in my Boston driving toolkit to maneuver to work quicker. By the time I raced in, raced through my "góðan daginn"s and raced back outside with my camera, there was a black low cloud lying right across the Jimi Hendrix Experience. No photos for me.*
Turns out these clouds have been seen before. They are called glitský (shimmering clouds) in Icelandic, and nacreous clouds
in English. They occur at 60,000 to 75,000 feet and are so high that they are able to catch the sun's light long before it comes over the horizon. They occur mostly in polar regions, and some say they are a harbinger of many cold days to come.
Saving the day today was my coworker Þórir, camera always by his side, who captured this one
on his way to work today. Enjoy, Hendrix fans.