Swedish Lapland

Swedish Lapland

North of the Arctic Circle in Sweden are vast lowland spruce forests with elongated lakes dividing mountainous watersheds. This is the land of the Sami; reindeer herders with centuries of ancient traditional forest skills, survivors from the modernisation of their lands.

Our small winter expedition plan was to sledge with dogs through the old Kungsleden Trail from the treeline at Nikkaluokta through the Singi confluence of wide, post-glacial valleys and down through the wild birch woods of Abisko to Torneträsk Lake. With our young children on board, this was to be a testing family adventure, involving self reliance, and a chance to immerse ourselves in some winter forest and mountain lore. 

'A strong sweet aroma of wood smoke from the stove seeped into my turbulent mind; the day’s events had been testing, navigating along frozen riverbeds and over two high passes. Just after midnight I jumped out of my sleeping bag, dressed in four layers of arctic clothing, pulled on my Canadian musher’s boots and strode out across the squeaking snow.

The night wind cut like a knife on my cheeks. I was being drawn somewhere, upward to a broad col above the hut, above the silent forest, and out beneath a velvet sky raging with stars. The vista of mountain and forest was more a presence than seen. Deep darkness and the icy cold blinded me with tears. I stood facing the north wind; expectant, excited. Why was I here? How did I get here? I stood firm, gazing at a vague mountainous skyline. A column of grey light briefly pulsed from behind the range – I imagined as if car headlights had passed, but there were no roads for seventy kilometres. Some of the grey lights tinged with yellowy brown shot higher than the rest. Within a minute many columns were shooting across the horizon. II pumped my arms to keep warm in the deathly temperature of minus 28C. Streaming with tears, and with a prickling spine, the night sky exploded into light and colour. The columns coalesced into veils of swirling colours pulsating east to west, high to low, in wave forms and rhythmical curtains: silver-blue, cinnabar into cerise, honey and saffron yellows waving like heavenly banners in the great vault of sky.

I stumbled back to the hut, lit a candle and woke my sleeping children. We dragged them off their beds wrapped in blankets and carried them on our backs out into the night. With their chins on our shoulders they gazed aloft, dreaming their dreams and absorbing the might of the symphony that raged above them. Light, space and nature merging with the past, the present and the future in a cacophony of emotion, like a blessing or a living prayer – simply a gift, a recognition of the power and beauty of the earth. Aurora borealis – once experienced, never  forgotten.'

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