Three Life Lessons in Russia’s Far North

We are at last on route to the third Blue Zone location on our Lifelong Journey, our year of travelling to and experiencing the places in the world where people live the longest. We are currently on a ferry sailing between Barcelona and Porto Torres on the island of Sardinia, where we will search out the pockets of longevity in the mountainous areas there, identified by Dan Buettner in the Blue Zones book.

We finished up our visit to the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica, our second Blue Zone location, in October last year, and since then have taken a bit of a Blue Zone hiatus. That, however, in spite of having traveled around the globe one and a half times in the past four months and visiting seven different countries, including France and Spain most recently.

A highlight of the past few months was a trip to Russia – to Moscow, as well as to Murmansk, far above the Arctic Circle, in search of the northern lights. Galina and I both celebrate 50 years of living this year (half way to 100!), and we had set an intention some time ago of seeing the northern lights to mark our birthdays.

Mission accomplished!

And although Murmansk is far away from any of the five original Blue Zones, we still managed to find some life lessons which we can apply to our own brand of Blue Zone living.

A key observation in Murmansk was that being in an experience is infinitely more emotionally uplifting and inspiring than seeing something in a photo. Sounds simple, but an interesting fact about the northern lights is that most of what is seen in a photo or video is not actually visible to the human eye. At night, our eyes are not able to pick up most of the colors which the camera sees. So, while the camera proves that the colors are real (i.e., no Photoshop or filters involved), it’s mostly just the streams of gases in the sky which can be seen with the naked eye, with only some slight tint of green or violet visible at times. But the experience of being in this wonder of nature (“God showing off”, as one of my Facebook friends commented) is awe-inspiring, even if most of the colors are only visible in the photos.

Lesson number one: experiencing is living.

Murmansk was developed as a city due to its strategic location. It sits at the tail end of the gulf stream which means that, despite frigid temperatures during the winter (it was minus 35 C when we were there), the Barents Sea does not freeze, making Murmansk one of the world’s northernmost year-round ports as well as the largest city on Earth above the Arctic Circle. Coal, timber, and other products are shipped by rail into Murmansk and then off to warmer climates by boats sailing above Norway then into the Atlantic Ocean. Murmansk is also your port of departure to sail to the North Pole in the summer (see my LinkedIn video on that subject)!

Being outside in this weather was very, very cold. And despite wearing six layers of clothing, the only way to prevent freezing was to move – jump, walk, run. Keep moving or freeze to death.

Lesson number two from Murmansk – keep moving.

This is true for surviving in the far north, but also true for thriving in life to avoid stagnation. Keep moving, learning and growing.

In addition to chasing the northern lights, we took some regional excursions, to see and touch the Barents Sea, as well as to a tribal village. But perhaps our most memorable outing was to visit a team of Alaskan and Siberian huskies – a dog team which actively competes in sledding competitions. We were introduced to these beautiful dogs, whose DNA doesn’t let them bite or harm humans, and learned about the roles different dogs play in their sled teams. The more intelligent leaders are at the front, who are often not necessarily the biggest or strongest, while the ones with the muscles and strength are in the back, closest to the sled.

It was a beautiful thing to see the dogs put into their designated spaces, and to then see how they were all so excited to be getting ready to run. Jumping up and down, barking and pulling on their reigns with such a sense of anticipation of what it was they were about to do. The energy was palpable. And we could feel their joy from the moment the sled was let loose and the dogs were allowed to run. They were pulling and running with all their might, doing what they were designed to do and it was a beautiful thing to witness.

Just as I had shed a tear or two of joy while standing under the northern lights, I felt the same sense of awe watching this team of beautiful animals so joyfully live out their purpose of hard work and service.

Lesson three – an inspiring reminder to keep a focus on purpose and on what brings joy in life. 

With slightly warmer temperatures in Europe, we are now on our way to Sardinia. Sardinia, part of Italy, is a rocky island in the Mediterranean Sea to the west of Italy’s main land, and just south of the smaller island of Corsica. It is one of Europe’s oldest civilizations, populated ahead of Italy and well before the Roman Empire. Sardinia is also a Blue Zone which seems to endow longevity to men and women equally. Generally speaking, both for centenarians and non-centenarians alike, women tend to outlive men, but in Sardinia they seem to fair equally. Looking forward to see what we will learn!


1 Comment
  • Chris Saye
    Rosemary Saye
    Posted at 18:08h, 26 February Reply

    Thank you for that awe inspiring blog. Yes – I will keep moving and learning at my advanced years. I remember the time when you really wanted a Husky – but not in Texas.

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