Meet Suka, my favourite husky here. She’s so dainty and delicate she deserves a life of leisure as a house dog. Wish I could take her home
Lapland is reindeer country. They roam free across this flat land, docile as cattle, standing in the roads or digging for lichen in the deep snow.
But they are not wild animals, or not entirely. Many are owned by the Sami people, the indigenous group once known as the Lapps, who live throughout Arctic Scandinavia and western Russia.
The reindeer herders are – or, for the most part, were – a semi-nomadic group, migrating north to the coast with their animals for the short Arctic summer, south to the forests over winter.
Modern life has not been kind to the Sami. Main roads and national borders have sprung up across centuries-old migration routes, while many of the traditional ways have become lost after generations of Sami children were sent to Finnish language boarding schools in the south – from which many never returned.
But Sami culture lives on. Recent government initiatives have pumped money into Sami-language education and cultural revival.
Here in Enontekio, the elderly Sami ladies can be spotted their embroidered smocks and bonnets in the supermarket, browsing the sweet selection. The Sami men, oozing testosterone, can be found in the only bar in town, or blearily winding their way home again on their snowmobiles.
Reindeer herding here is still very much a way of life. Although the majority of the Sami reindeer herders now keep a permanent home – a house, a car, a comfortable bed – life is still dictated by the changing seasons; the movement of the reindeer. Continue reading
I arrive after dark, dragging my suitcase through the thick snow. But I’m barely through the door when I’m handed a pair of work boots and dispatched down to the farm.
“Do you want to get thrown in the deep end?” asks Anna, my host, but it’s not really a question. “Get your jacket on, go down the hill and follow the snowmobile tracks to a gate.”
The instructions turn out to be unnecessary – I follow the sound of barking which starts off loud and grows to a wall of noise and fury by the time I reach the kennels.
Three figures are running back and forth up the lines of dogs, pulling more from cages and running circles and harnessing them to three sleds tied to posts along a track running up the centre of the yard. The noise is incredible; I can barely hear to introduce myself to the others, but they are too harried to talk much anyway. Not knowing how to help, I hover on the sidelines and rub the forehead of one of the quietest dogs.
Ice crystals are hanging in the air, glinting in the glare of the floodlights. The dogs are mewling, almost hysterical in excitement, throwing themselves forward and straining against the holding ropes in their desperation to be off and running.
“Get in!” someone instructs me, and obediently I hop down onto a sled full of snow, immediately soaking the jeans I’ve been wearing since I got on the tube in Kentish Town the previous morning.
A command rings out and with a jerk we are off into the dark, through the snow-tipped pine, with only a head torch for light.