How I missed the midnight sun

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.

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