Day Two: In Which We Get the Help of Three Firemen (Oh, and See the Aurora…)

We’re no early risers, the three of us. I’ll just say that now. It’s convenient the breakfast at the hotel ended at 10am. We got there about 9:45, and enjoyed a lovely spread of some familiar and some unfamiliar food, amidst people who were mainly dressed to go skiing. This was strange, coming from a place of ski areas and having no desire to do so here. I forewent the reindeer pate and blood sausage (not an organ meat person) in favor of the more familiar eggs and coffee, but did also indulge in grains (muesli and some gruel of sorts) topped with lingonberry syrup and berries. Apparently pairing reindeer with lignonberries is a thing, as is anything with either of them, plus other berries like cloudberries. Finland. A place of reindeer and berries.

We headed back, packed up, and hit the road. Being none of us morning people, we limit our daylight hours with our leisurely starts. The sun goes down around 5pm, although light lingers on the horizon until 7pm or so. The sun stays close to the horizon all day, throwing us off, as it always seems close to setting, and then giving us another five or so hours of daylight. Also, yes, the light is lovely all day. No need to rush out to take pictures in that morning light. No harsh shadows, ever. Thanks, Arctic.

We were already in Lapland, but we were heading farther north, at our leisurely pace. Along the way, we went through a lot of pine forest that looked like this. I was trying to stay awake to take in the countryside, but succumbed to napping when I realized I’d probably be missing more of this. (Not that it wasn’t nice. It very much was.)

In the town of Inari, we stopped to check out a museum and to have a late lunch. The SIIDA gives a lovely intro to Sami culture and local wilderness. Plus, we were able to eat traditional food (in this case, salmon meatballs) and drink maybe not-so-traditional but still-very-important coffee.

We saw many animals frozen asleep in their burrows. Amazing access.

We also learned quite a bit about the native peoples, common to northern Norway, Sweden, and Russia as well, who for many centuries have lived principally off herding reindeer and fishing. Much like the coastal cultures from the Pacific Northwest, they had leisure time in which to craft beautiful household objects. Principal materials include birch (of which we saw plenty as we proceeded north) and reindeer bone, hide, and antlers. Pictured here are implements for weaving.

I won’t bore you with a video, but… north of the museum, back on the road, yes, indeed, ladies and gentlemen, we saw our very first reindeer. In the video, I say something to the effect of, ‘I know that this will probably be one of those cases where we’re going to take a picture now and then see more and more reindeer, and look back and laugh…’ I start the next video with, “So this is literally about 30 seconds later…”

Well, here, let me see if I can embed this, for proof.


And then:


Said Marijke, “Look, our first reindeer! Well, the first was the one we ate…”

Shorly after that:

“I hope we see a reindeer but don’t hit it.” – me

“Yes. But if we do–sausage!” – Marijke

And on it goes. It turns out that reindeer meat is quite nice. And goes well with lingonberries.

Shortly after our first two live reindeer sightings, we saw two moose, also alongside (but not in) the road, and then I saw something in an open field of snow I was convinced was a fox–or maybe a wolverine!! But was maybe just a dog. (I’m sticking with fox.) (There are amazingly beautiful foxes here, as pictured at the museum. Apparently Finnish people once believed the northern lights were caused by the tail of a (presumably very large) arctic fox as it brushed against the mountains, throwing sparks into the sky (which is strange because there aren’t really many mountains in Finland) (maybe they meant hills).)

The pine gave way to birch, we drove along long, steep, seemingly narrow hills that I’m guessing are drumlins (hills created of rock and rubble at the base of large glaciers), through a snow-covered landscape, reaching Utsjoki, a town of the border with Norway, after dark. The stores were closed, but we popped into a pub for a round of Finnish beer and, you guessed it (or maybe not), a reindeer and lingonberry pizza. Which was quite, surprisingly good.

Then, we drove away. Well, we meant to. We were stuck. Until some nice pub-goers helped push us out, but every time we stopped we couldn’t get going again. Take off the hand brake, they said. We did, we said. No, seriously, take off the hand brake, they said. No, seriously, we said. We did. They had to look into the car before they believed us. The rear wheels wouldn’t turn. The brake was…frozen. Marijke drove a few donuts in hopes that it would break loose. No luck. The pub-goers gave up and pub-went. We were paused on the road to figure out what we wanted to do when an ambulance happened along. It stopped. Hej! (Which is hello in Finnish.) Eric talked with them while I stayed lazy and warm in the back and Marijke stayed behind the wheel. We rolled down the windows. They understood the problem exactly. Allow me to postulate that we are not the first tourists in a rental car to have suffered from a frozen parking brake. They pushed, with song. “Push it, push it good. Push it real good!” They pushed good enough, and we were off following them to the firehouse (Eric had to jump in while the car was moving).

Photo of us in the firehouse. We stood around waiting for the brake to thaw, chatting with our rescuers.

Then, after much kiitos (thank you in Finnish), off to our new home. We arrived at our AirBnB cabin much later than anticipated, but were welcomed by our host, Reetta, who introduced us to the place, had fired up the hot tub for us, cleaned off spots on the windows that she could now see in the dark for maximum aurora viewing, and said that yes, there should be an aurora that night, and even, “You can see it’s starting, now,” pointing northwest on the horizon. Glee. Night one–the real night one, night one in our new home–and already clear skies and aurora. It was around 9pm, and was supposed to peak around 11pm. We fussed with camera gear. We bundled up. Marijke figured out her system, which she had put much thought and care into. I half-heartedly grabbed mine, which I had thrown together. I was frustrated by a freshly broken battery door which I rigged closed with a quarter, a napkin, and two hair bands. I missed the first round of good light through my fussing. Once I had figured it out, however, I was pretty excited to try. Outside, the sky was going off again. A band of yellow-green stretched all the way across the sky, from the northwest to the northeast over the cabin. It shape-shifted, dancing into another form while we had the light on to get set up. It became more diffuse, but then tightened up into more horizontal bands to the north, eventually melting again into a lighter, sinewy curtain. Hints of pink played underneath the yellows, briefly, to the northwest. Long exposures brighten and spread the light, more dramatic than to the naked eye. Even the thin curtains show up, as if the camera is a ghost detector, capturing the spirit world. Or, as it were, the light of plasma. Maybe Ghostbusters was a fitting watch on the plane after all.

I don’t have my photos processed yet, but this just in from Marijke:

Eric, with no real photo-taking aspirations, hopped in the steamy outdoor tub to take in the show while relaxing in fire-warmed water. Marijke and I, her moreso than me, took enough shots to be satisfied and appropriately chilly before bringing in the equipment (me) and setting up for time lapse (her), and trading in capturing the lights for what remained of the hot water. We watched the waning show as the water succumbed to the elements, and then we did the same. Hot showers and hot drinks and, eventually, to bed. Success!


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