To Kiruna along the Torne River which separates Sweden from Finland, through the vast pine forests that spread out across this part of the world. The place names turn Finnish and I hear Finnish spoken on the bus. I spot a lone, confused reindeer by the road; probably looking for its flock, which are owned by the Sami here.
I’m surprised by how bright the light is. It probably won’t get dark tonight, I think. I’m too late for the midnight sun and too early for the northern lights, and haven’t booked any of the overpriced tours. I’ll get lost as usual, end up walking through random lots, but it doesn’t matter.
The next day a long hike along the Midnight Sun trail to the top of Luossavaara Mountain. On the way down what looks like a wolf appears on the path. I stop and prepare to meet my maker, but it turns out to be a large husky whose owner was hidden by a bush. You’re not the first one, she tells me. Around the corner I see a sign about wildlife. I translate it for S. in my head as if she were with me. Of course wolves are rare and monitored here, and not stupid enough to get this close to civilisation. The bears, moose and lynxes are elsewhere, but I don’t want to go further out in the wilderness to stay in a cabin with no electricity or running water. Or in a tent in two degrees on Kebnekaise, as a group I met did. They shuffle back to the hostels with tousled hair and stinking armpits.
When I was younger a Finnish friend and I drove from Helsinki up to the Barents Sea in his mother’s car, and back down through Norway and Sweden. We slept in his tent in the forests along the roadsides. We bathed twice, in a lake by a cottage that his grandfather built, and in a public swimming pool. We were young then, we didn’t care. He taught me how Finns drink. I wonder what became of him.
The suburbs and bus stations tend to blur into each other. Where’s the station? No, that was the last town. Now a bus has dropped me in a village in Lapland, just below the Arctic Circle. Mist, rain, a beautiful church and deep silence. I like it here.
Funny way of travelling, this. You get sent a code to a hostel door, find the place on Maps and let yourself in. There are no receptionists. But the Swedes are proper, polite people, when you do talk to them. I like to try to speak Swedish, since they don’t understand Danish. We mostly understand each other.
The next morning the sun is high on a cloudless sky. I spray myself with mosquito repellent and walk around a lake. I can walk for hours now: I feel strong, free and alone. I’m ready to go further north.
Why do we travel? Perhaps because, despite everything, being there still makes a difference, still makes the virtual world seem like a mirage.
Why this pull towards unspoiled nature, especially the North? Because it’s impersonal. And what is the impersonal? It’s what points towards the holy. Weil once said in her hard, uncompromising way: ‘So far from its being his person, what is sacred in a human being is the impersonal in him. Everything which is impersonal in man is sacred, and nothing else.’
The impersonal is a kind of border that becomes more dangerous the closer you get to it. I did a hike in the forest today and it occurred to me how easily things could go wrong before you’re at the forest’s mercy. Say I broke my ankle on one of these rocks, I thought, with no signal, attacked by a million mosquitoes and ants. I think one has to be in that sort of landscape, be frightened by its indifference and one’s own smallness, to even begin to understand it. There were cabins there for campers. Could I ever camp in such a place, let alone live there? Probably not. I only enjoy it for so long until I want to get back to my hostel, a restaurant and a bar.
Formulated as a question — is chance necessary? — is it in reality a needed working partner, a kind of neutral helper that, if we gain insight into its essence, could change our thinking, and therefore our lives, for the better? Maybe we could conceive of it as a kind of inexhaustible layer of white noise from which, in principle, music can always be drawn, just not always exactly when the individual wants it or feels that it’s necessary — more likely when the individual dares to let go, for the briefest instant, of his own feeling of being necessary.
— Inger Christensen, ‘The Regulating Effect of Chance’ (tr. Nied)
Everyone carries a room about inside him. This fact can even be proved by means of the sense of hearing. If someone walks fast and one pricks up one's ears and listens, say in the night, when everything round about is quiet, one hears, for instance, the rattling of a mirror not quite firmly fastened to the wall.