Nellim, Lapland, September 2016

Hanna lifted the nets out of the lake little by little while Kristiina kept the rowboat steady. We all held our breath and hoped that there would be just enough fish: not too little, and especially, not too much. The Arctic waters of the lake were teeming with life. The white bellies of the fish glowed beneath the surface as she hauled the net closer. Three pikes, five whitefish and three pike perches. Not bad! Nearly six kilos, laborious but not impossible. The rain drizzled steadily down as Kristiina rowed us to the shore.

Hanna supervised the cleaning of the nets and then gutted the fish with mastery. The silvery scales showered the wooden trestle and turned it into an iridescent console, fit for a Chinese Neptune. Two of the whitefish were filled to bursting with roe. Hanna scooped the orange delicacy carefully out and into the cup I held. One of the pikes had swallowed a small fish right before we had caught him. The fish were nestled inside each other like Russian dolls.  

Nina had lit the smoke sauna while the nets were being disentangledd. Black fumes made their escape every time the door was opened and the “nest” was stoked. I thought of the women of old, giving birth to new generations in the dark womb of the sauna. And the dead, laid out to wait for their final rest on the benches.

Hands had gone red from the cold and our minds were turning towards the warmth of the main house and the rum and tea to be had there. We made our way up the hill and through the silent, soaring forest. Hanna stopped to nudge a large dropping with her boot. “Some bigger creature has passed here.” The image of shaggy brown flanks and bared fangs flitted through every mind. Hopefully the king of the forest would keep his distance.

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Before the tea and the rum, wet gear had to be hung to dry and lingonberries transferred from pouches in backpacks to the cool of the fridge. Nina laid out nuts, Kristiina cut the Lappish cheese and Hanna lit the candles. The light reflected from tree-clad walls.

Talk flowed easily, and the nuts and cheese disappeared into hungry mouths. We moved on to prosecco, and dreams and reminisces were scattered on the table among the crumbs. Outside the grey day grew to a gentle close, the wind soughing through the pines. The others made ready to return to the soft, warm belly of the sauna and the invigorating lake. I busied myself in the kitchen, thoughts turning to this text, my own way of honouring the majesty around us.

On the days that followed, we climbed fells in rain and sweet sunshine, moved by the magnificent blue-green vistas and the tenacious birch trees that clung to the earth like tiny bushes. In the night we stood craning our necks in our wellies, bathrobes and jackets watching the sky light up with the mysterious shifting shapes of aurora borealis.

The high reaches of northeastern Lapland far surpassed expectations I had of it. There is magic there and a silent, potent wisdom. People are used to tourists from all corners of the earth, and services are plentiful. A good place to stay - if you are not lucky enough to be at Hanna's family cottage - is Hotel Kakslauttanen, right by the fells.