The Finnmark Region
The Arctic Circle
Within the Arctic Circle (drawn at the latitude north of which the sun does not rise above the horizon at winter solstice, and does not set below it at summer solstice) lies Finnmark. Here beneath Polaris, the North Star, is the land of the midnight sun. Here also is a land of shadows, and darkness, where only the snow’s reflecting glimmer cheers the long winter days..
Now with the winter giving way to spring the Vidda is waking from sleep, the days are longer, and the company is better! A clatter of ptarmagon rising off the snow will startle us coming round a hillside, and we’ll see perhaps the footprints of a Lynx stealing into a ravine after a hare. Perhaps we’ll hear the cry of an eagle echoing off the fjålls or even, more rarely, a lone wolf howling from a hilltop.
The Sámi settlement of Neiden
We shall be sledding from Grense Jacobselv on the Barents sea through birch forests as we follow the border between Russia and Norway. The pinewoods round Kirkenes are part of the Russian Taiga, and for the next 150 kilometres we travel through glittering mountainous landscapes. Passing Neiden, an old Finnish Sámi settlement, we travel between woods and hills, before descending onto moor land, frozen bog land, and the frozen lakes towards Varangerbotn where we mush across sea ice on the look-out for seals.
The Tana river
From Varangerbotn we push with the dogs upstream on the great Tana river following the border between Finland and Norway. The Tana river, famous for its salmon fishing, is at the heart of Sámi culture in Eastern Finnmark, and there are many nostalgic Yoik (The Sámi singing songs) to remind us of this...We will be meeting herders and their families on both sides of the border.
Soon we will move away from the river and across the tundra as we aim to Karasjok, the administrative capital of Sapmi where the Sámi Parliament (The Samediggi) is located.
Over the next stretch between Karasjok and Kautokeino we travel over bare inhospitable terrain, but used as pastureland by great herds of reindeer. Here we will meet many herders, and will be looking forward to contact and interviews to gather more than superficial information on their lives. Often we will be forced to leave our dog teams in the care of their handlers while we approach the herds who will be nervous of foreign dogs whom they associate with their natural predators, the wolves.
Kautokeino is perhaps the social and cultural heart of Sapmi. Here there are remarkable handicraft (Duodji) centres, gifted singers of Yoik , and the great reindeer families who are based in the town. Here you can experience both Sámi pride, courage and independence, and sometimes arrogance when dealing with hardworking Sámi people who do not have the elitist right to a reindeer-herder’s pedigree. “Do not think that you are someone!” (I have heard said to a devoted Sámi political rights worker.) “You do not speak Sámi properly, and do not own any reindeer!” Here in Kautokeino we will meet politicians, psychologists, teachers, and also some Sámi Veivisere as they are called; these last are young Sámi men and women who travel round the secondary schools in Norway bringing a truer pragmatic sense of the reality of Sámi lives.
The landscape changes little when we move from Kautokeino towards Manndalen and the wild country between Finnmark and the county of Troms. Approaching the coast we will be meeting up with Swedish herders as we enter difficult mountainous territory, following the routes that the herders use when moving their herds from winter to spring pasture land. Here we will spend time with herders and herds, participating in the the diversity of everyday activities, and learning - in the outdoor context of the Sámi’s knowledge, experience, perceptions and practise - how they see...
Close to the border point where Finland, Sweden and Norway meet we touch an alpine landscape before sledding South across the largest area of permafrost in Europe. We then continue mushing high in the mountains between Norway and Sweden, a windswept area that can feel like a very cold desert, where both dogs and humans have to work hard. Here, though, we will have good chances to catch sight of wolverine, eagle, arctic fox and his cousin the red fox. This before heading through a system of lakes to Skjørnen, and sledding steeply downhill to the Atlantic Ocean.