We’re in our winter quarters now, a comfortable flat in a tiny village – Vormsele – by a big, big river in southern Lapland.
Lapland is vast. With very few people. It holds about 1.2% of the 9,000,000 or so Swedes, in 26% of Sweden’s land area. This works out to roughly 2 people per square kilometre – they are heavily outnumbered by reindeer in most areas. We are 15 kms from the nearest shop and 45 kms from the nearest town, Lycksele. The roads are wide, smooth and untroubled by traffic although they do have a speed limit of around 60 mph. You wonder at this until you see an elk, a great grey monolith at the side of the road.
An elderly aunt of my treated traffic with utter contempt, and would start her journey across a busy road by fixing the driver of the nearest oncoming car with a formidable stare, and waving her stick around vigorously. She continued across the road thus, oblivious to the sound of expletives and screeching brakes in her wake. An elk crosses your path in a similar way, albeit without the stick. If the elk is really curious then it might stop half-way across and watch you fish-tailing towards it on smoking wheels.
Unfortunately, and unlike my aunt, an elk can weigh 700 kg. You really, really don’t want to hit one, so perhaps the speed limits are a good idea …
I’ve never seen a reindeer near to a main road. This is good as they outnumber elks by a long way and are still big enough to total your car. The reindeer are not really “wild” animals as they are owned & herded by the indigenous Sami people. They spend the spring & summer in the mountains then are brought down, in lorries, for the winter. In the early spring, whilst the river is still frozen, the Sami herd the reindeer along the river and back to the hills. Thousands of them will pass through the village.
The locals use the frozen river for ice-fishing, to which we’ve already been invited. They bore a large hole through the ice and dangle a line through, pretty much like the eskimos do. They also use it as a highway for snow-scooters, skiing etc.
The winters here are long & severe. We’ve had a couple of little dustings already and the real snow will come in a week or so and will remain until April/May of next year. They have recorded temperatures of -40oC but -20 is common and the locals treat the winter with respect. Snow-tyres are being fitted, logs stacked, snow-scooters readied and snow-poles are in place. These, snow-poles, are 3 meter tall red poles, at 50 meter intervals to mark the safe edge of the road.
We saw the Northern Lights last night ….