While waiting for the snow and ice to come to Lapland

It is October 2016. This month is unusual warm and even if we are in the middle of the month there is still no snow on the ground in Lapland.

As I would like to have snow and ice I get a little anxious and impatient. But then I decide I have to settle with the situation and try to get as much good out of it as possible. So my October in Lapland has been full of interesting happenings and new experiences.

This time of the year is suitable to pick cranberries. Cranberries are naturally a bitter tasting berry, but the taste changes after a night outdoor in minus degrees or in your deepfreezer and the result is less bitterness. The cranberry is many times used as medicine for illnesses especially in the urinary bladder or in the kidneys,

I was happy to find a swamp where I could be alone and pick cranberries, because this year the cranberry is not very frequent. So I spent several hours walking around on a very wet swamp. But I was happy to return with 1,5 l of the best berries.

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The autumn before the snow can also be used for hiking. The wibrant color period is in September, but as this October is extraordinary warm I decided to go for a hike last Sunday. On the map I found an interesting round suitable for one day’s hike. The amount of hours with daylight is decreasing every day now, so you’d better leave early in the morning to have time enough for a hiking tour and return home before dark. The length of the day light is 9 hours these days.

My route is to be seen on this picture of the map. The area  “Soppanan retkeilyalue” is in the south of Finnish Lapland. There are many hiking routes to choose between. On the area there is also a camp site in the summer time.

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My hike starts very promising as I in the beginning am overwhelmed by a bunch of Bohemian waxwings. They gather together like this in the autumns here in Lapland to fly south during the winter. I like the look and the whistling voice of these birds.

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Other companions on my hike were the reindeer. They are strolling around in the forests of Lapland this time of the year. I found some beautiful, white species near my hiking route. They were not used to people and would run away as they saw me.

 

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Along the route there are two hootchies where I could stop and sit down for a while with philosophical thought about the nature around me. At the fire places my soul rests and the world around ceases to exist for a short moment. I drink some hot cups of tea together with something to eat which I bring in my backpack.

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This place is near the Paasojärvi sea with a great view over the sea and a steep shore. As all leaves have fallen off the trees now, there is not much that disturbs your view. The weather was not the very most optional for a nature hike this day, but it was warm enough and no rain, so I was quite satisfied with the circumstances.

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In this forest the old spruces wore a kind of “beard”. On some places the “beard” was really frequent and tall. The beard is officially named Usnea, but called the old-man’s beard or beard lichen. Usnea is very sensitive to air pollution. Under bad conditions they may grow no larger than a few millimetres, if they survive at all. Where the air is unpolluted, they can grow to 10–20 cm long. It can sometimes be used as a bioindicator, because it tends to only grow in those regions where the air is clean, and of high quality. Nice to know the air is unpolluted here.

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One of the places I stopped for a rest is like a hut where you can sit indoor in case of rain. It is also possibly to spend the night here if you want to do that.

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I found the sweetest guest book in this hut and I could read the story from a visitor a couple of weeks ago. He had spent 3 days and nights in this hut as he had been watching and photograping auroras/northern lights in the sky. During the days he had been fishing from the sea nearby. I always check for guest books in the huts and I mostly find them, too. Some guests write only short marks of their visits, but some guests really makes an effort to write an interesting story for other visitors to enjoy. The most common marks in the guest books are the weather conditions.

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The hiking route lead me over swamps, up on high hills, near seas and rivers and through the forest. I was very satisfied when I returned home in the evening with one more experience in the baggage.

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Ice-fishing expedition to the Upper North of Lapland, in 2016

I have just returned from this year’s ice-fishing expedition to the “arm” of Finland. It was an expedition that lasted for 5 days with varying weather conditions and varying fortune in the ice-fishing.

In the “arm” of Finland there are the highest fells of Finland and the river Torniojoki/Muoniojoki with extensions runs all the way along the border to Sweden from Kilpisjärvi in north to Tornio in south.

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To drive to our accommodation took us 5 hours from Rovaniemi with a short stop in the village of Muonio to pay a visit to a nice little shop of a friend of mine, Pikku Puotinen.

After some arrangements concerning too much snow on the parking lot near the cottage, we moved to the place for ice-fishing near the fell Lammasoaivo. IMG_9459 (2)

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During the stay the weather conditions varied from absolutely fantastic, warm, sunny days to cold, windy and also one rainy day The temperatures varied from -10 degrees Celsius to +5 degrees. In the beginning of the expedition the snow was hard, really hard. Even about half a meter deep. The reindeer could easily walk above on the snow. But in the end of our visit the rainy day had destroyed the hard snow completely and the reindeer as well as we had difficulties to walk in the forest.

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We moved on skies for some kilometers every day and we could also in the beginning enjoy the hard snow and the easiness to go skiing in the nature, where the depth of the snow was about half a meter. The last day was really a trial on skis, but we made it, with a sweaty result.

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Regarding the fishing, the ice was 70 cm thick, there was  hardly any snow on the ice and we got a lot of greylings and some whitefish. The amount of fish was really more than expected. My unluck, although, was the trout I had on my hook for several minutes, but finally, as I almost got it up on the ice, it succeeded to free itself from the hook! The disappointment lasted for the whole day. This trout was probably even bigger than the one I got in the year 2013 weighing 1,5 kilo.

Here is a picture of the trout in 2013. Just for my own comfort, to forget the one I lost this year…..

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The greylings were many and some were really big. Some nice whitefish I also got.

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Every day inbetween we lit a fire in different places depending on from which direction the wind was blowing at the time, and fried some sausages and had something warm to drink.

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At times when the fish was not eating, I watched the nature and, as usual, the little White-throated dipper (Cinclus Cinclus) in the rapid. Impossible to get a good picture of it with my little camera. On the snow I also found a “runway” for swans. Two swans had visited the ice during the night and left the marks where they took off again.

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Otherwise the spring had not arrived yet to this area and very few migratory birds had so far returned to Lapland. Some flocks of Snow buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) were flying around from the south bank of the river to the north bank. I missed the Common crane (Grus grus).

(this picture is borrowed from www.luontoportti.com, all other photos in this post are my own)

The rainy day we spent with a visit to Kilpisjärvi, the northernmost village near the place where the borders from Sweden, Norway and Finland meet. Even if it was raining on the fishing place 40 km from Kilpisjärvi, the sun started to shine as we arrived to Kilpisjärvi.

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An interesting visit to the Kilpisjärvi nature center provided me with information about the nature and the people of the area around Kilpisjärvi. After that we had a delicious lunch at the Kilpisjärvi Retkeilykeskus before we returned to ice-fishing.

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Very tired, but content we finally ended this year’s expedition to the Upper North of Finland. So far I have never been disappointed with the ice-fishing experiences in between the fells of Sweden and Finland. And so far the weather has always been, at least, partly sunny and not too cold for ice-fishing.

A visit to this place in the summer time is on my wish list.

 

 

 

 

 

Be ware of reindeer on the road

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This winter in south of Lapland there is extremely much snow. The depth of the snow was approx. 85 cm in Rovaniemi last week. The last few days have been sunny and warm and that has reduced the snow depth a lot. The fluffy snow from last week has changed into more compact snow in the nature. This makes it also easier to approach the snow with skis or snowmobiles.

The large amount of snow in the city is a problem for the traffic and the cleaning has taken a lot of time. It has been very clever to mark the electricity boxes with a long stick. They very quickly disappear under the large amounts of snow.

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When the snow melts you will find out what you forgot to put away in the autumn before it started snowing….

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It is not only the cars and the pedestrians that suffer from the large amount of snow. Also the reindeer in the forests have to struggle with the snow. It makes it hard for them to find food and it causes troubles to move for them. If the forest is covered with fluffy snow 85 cm and the legs of an ordinary reindeer are approx. 80 cm, you understand the trouble the snow causes to the reindeer.

During spring the conditions change as the snow is getting more tight by the influence of the sun and warmer temperatures, the snow is getting so hard that the reindeer as well as people and snowmobiles can move on top of the snow because the surface is indurated by the warm sun in the day and the cold nights.

This time of the year you have to look out for reindeer on the roads, because they rather walk on the roads than in the forests because of the snow. Another reason for them to stay on the road is the salt spread on the roads to melt the snow. Reindeer also want the salt.

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Once I was driving there was even a reindeer sleeping on the road. It did not get up, but I had to slow down my car and pass by it very carefully. I could see it looking at me, so it was not dead, but it really did not bother to rise.

Every year about 4,000 collisions take place between cars and reindeer in the reindeer herding areas in Finland. The modern technique could be used to transfer warnings between the cars on the road. That is a project going on and it will be first available for commercial vehicles. The reindeer warning system means when one driver sees reindeer on the road he could just by pressing a button on his phone get the message to other cars in the surrounding areas to let them know where the risk to crash a reindeer is really remarkable at that moment. That would save a lot of reindeer lives. The collision risks with reindeer involved are largest in October-January. This warning system can be in everyone’s use at the earliest during the year 2016.

In the dark autumn evenings reindeer also walk along and across the roads. Last year there were tests made with a new invention with reflex color sprayed on the antlers of some 300 reindeer in the reindeer herding areas. This made it easy to see a reindeer even from afar and the driver had time to press the brake and avoid crashes. Many other ways have been tested, but for example collars with reflex has not met the expectations, they have eventually fallen off in the forests. The reflex paint was put on bone antlers, not on still growing antlers. Tests for how well the paint stayed on the antlers in different weather conditions were taken last spring. Last autumn tests for how successful the method is in preventing crashes is taken. The tests are not finished and the results are not ready yet.

This method would protect the female reindeer more than the males, because the males use to drop the antlers during winter. But on the other hand there are more female reindeer than males. If a reindeer dies in a collision the state of Finland grant punitive damages from 253-759 euro per reindeer, depending of how valuable the reindeer is. A stud or a doe is considered more valued than fawns for example.

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Vibrant autumnal period (Ruska)

In autumn in Lapland the days get shorter, rain raises the water levels of rivers, lakes and swamps, and the cooling weather helps to form a misty cloud cover over the waterways. The vibrant autumnal shades of the ruska period is a sign of nature making its preparations for the coming winter.

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In Lapland the period in early autumn when all the leaves of plants and trees turn into a yellow, red and orange colour they call Ruska.

 

Ruska intensifies day by day in early September as the nights get cooler from swamps to fell highlands. The colourful splendour is at its most spectacular around the middle of September, and sometimes at the end of the month.

TIMG_1055his phenomenon starts when the daylight hours decrease and the weather gets colder. Plants start to prepare for the long winter, the chlorophyll starts to move from the leaves into the branches, trunk and roots and this makes the colour cells in the leaves glow. The more the night-time temperatures fall below zero and the drier the weather, the more vibrant the array of colour. The birch turns a gentle shade of yellow, aspen turns red, and the leaves of blueberry and bog bilberry shrubs turn bright red.

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Many people like to come to Lapland from i.e. the south of Finland to admire the ruska by hiking in the forests and on the fells. Here you find information of how to join a ruska-trip to Lapland. And here is another travel agency’s offer. 

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Some of our birds migrate to warmer climates when autumn comes, but the local birds have to survive the cold of winter. During the autumn, squirrels store pine cones in the ground safely out of the reach of woodpeckers. The stoat and fox are also very good at hiding things.

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Some animals take a winter rest, hibernation and wake up again in the spring when the sun once again provides warmth and nutrition becomes available. The bear, badger and raccoon dog hibernate during the winter. During the autumn, these animals accumulate a layer of fat under their skins that their bodies use for nutrition through the long winter.

I am excited waiting for what the winter brings regarding the brown bears in Ranua zoo. See my earlier post.
The northern lights have already been seen in the sky above Lapland this autumn. They expect a very active northern light winter this year, so I suppose the tourists interested in the phenomenon will hurry to Lapland within the next months. Especially the Japanese are very interested in seeing northern lights.
IMG_4623In the autumn in Lapland you can fish in fluvial waters, lakes and marine areas. The provincial fish, the salmon may still be fished from the lakes. Before departing on a fishing trip you should check legal matters and statutes from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry website Lure fishing may be practiced on state-owned lure and recreational fishing regions. You can fish on private waterways without needing to pay the provincial lure fishing fee, but you must receive permission to fish the waters from the owner of the waterway. Private, joint permit region waterways like these are, for instance located on the Tornionjoki, Ounasjoki and Lower Kemijoki rivers. You need a permit to practice lure fishing.
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Reindeer herding in Lapland is based on year’s cycle that nature determines. The heat or mating season is in October. The male reindeer gather then a herd of female reindeer or does around him and at this time of the year there are large herds of reindeer also moving around on the roads. So there is a reason to be careful when driving. The female reindeer then carries the calf until the late spring. The calves are born in May and start to walk already a couple of hours after they are born.

A file of reindeer

I believe everyone knows by now I am absolutely fascinated by reindeer; and that means not only the Santa Claus’ reindeer, but all reindeer all over Lapland, the ones you meet when you are in the wilderness and the ones brought into the city to meet tourists and inhabitants of Rovaniemi.

IMG_8861In the city of Rovaniemi they have in the year 2010 gathered a file of reindeer (pororaito) in the park area outside the administrative center with the library and the Lappia house, and also inside the center. The file of reindeer consists of five pieces of art in forms of reindeer and they are spread very nicely all over the park. Everyone of them is unique and perfect in its own way. I, myself, has many times visited the park in different seasons of the year and I never stop admiring the beauty of these pieces of art.

They first one of the five art pieces you may notice as you drive by the park are the two statues of reindeer standing by the road. The artist Tom Engblom explains why he has chosen to name the work: “Are we standing in the way?” He explains the reindeer are usually seen in the forests but also very often, too often, they are seen on the roads and unfortunately many of them are killed by cars as they usually move around in the evenings after sun set or during the period of kaamos, the Polar night, in winter. So Tom Engblom says that usually these creatures are actually “in the way”. There is two different reindeer, one is a female reindeer – a doe – and one is a male reindeer – a bull. The statues are made of cement ant colored in the same color as the traffic obstacles found all over the city, the “betoniporsaat”, and that makes the meaning “are we in the way” even more interesting.

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IMG_8859The next piece in the file of reindeer is “A Bounce” that stands near the door to the library. The Lappish artist Teuvo Tuomivaara has made the statue out of wood and steel. The statue is of course a reindeer, but you can also imagine the antlers to describe sunbeams.

 

 

 

 

The piece of art “Marsh to out” is made by Risto Immonen of plain steel. There is a two-dimensional expression as the reindeer so to say walks out from itself and there is only the hole left. As you look at the sculpture from different angles you see the movement and the sculpture changes into different shapes. The piece of steel weighs about 600 kg and is 200 x 250 cm big. It is not made of stainless steel, so the sculpture will change during time due to the corrosion of rust. 

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Behind the administrative center, in a narrow corner on the back yard stands a reindeer statue made of Sauli Miettunen. The name of the art piece is “Part of Nature” and it is made of cement, pieces of stones, concrete material and steel. The reindeer has really large antlers in form of a big tree and stands in a position as if it has been scared by a car or so.

 

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IMG_8396Sauli Miettunen has also created the sculpture, “The calf” on the wall inside the Administrative center. It is made of stainless steel all over and consists of two different structures that make the calf look like it is moving as you watch it from different angles. Very beautiful. Sauli Miettunen describes his works: Everything is part of nature: the trees, the stones and the animals.

In addition there are a number of other objects that show the influence reindeer herding has had on Rovaniemi and Lapland all over the city of Rovaniemi. Here are some examples:

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Reindeer for tourist attractions and herding

Let me tell you about my, for the time being, favorite animal, the Lappish reindeer. I just love their big, dark brown eyes and their slow movements in the Lappish nature. I have had the fortune during my stay in Lapland to see lots of reindeer in different seasons and in different places. I have met almost tame reindeer and been able to touch their heads and their backs. I have of course also many times pressed the breaks in my car because there is one or more reindeer on the road. I even once saw a reindeer sleeping in the middle of the road.

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In Lapland all reindeer are domesticated. So all reindeer hunting is prohibited. Reindeer have been herded for centuries by the Sami people. They all keep and have kept reindeer for meat, hides and antlers. Earlier they also milked the reindeer and used them for transportation. In Siberia they even used the reindeer for riding. But then we need to remember that the Siberian reindeer are larger than their Lapland relatives.

They roam freely on pasture grounds in the north of Finland, Sweden and Norway. In traditional nomadic reindeer herding, the herders migrated with their herds between coast and inland areas by the same migration routes, and herds are keenly looked after.

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Even if they were tamed for milking and for use as aught animals or pack-load beasts, still the large majority of reindeer have never been bred in captivity. The female reindeer calves in the spring in May. At this time the doe can nurse its calf without worrying about annoying insect swarms that come later. During summer the most important food for the reindeer is birch leaves, grass and lichen.

Even if the reindeer has been domesticated, they still are quite timid and will avoid people. During the mating period in autumn I have been warned to be a little careful to be near male reindeer. They may attack if provoked. Lapland’s predators, such as the wolverine, bear and wolf, are the natural enemies of the reindeer.

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The Sami people also use reindeer in running competitions. The yearly arranged Reindeer cup in Lapland has many spectators; both tourists and inhabitants. In the middle of Rovaniemi city they also arrange a reindeer run every year in the middle of March.

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I have, as many tourists, also bought me a reindeer hide. People preparing the skins nail the skins on a wall to dry out. When the fat of the skin dries on the surface of the hide, it gets water-repellent. The dried skins are nice to lie on. Thus these skins are much used on sledges in winter. Otherwise you can use the reindeer hide even in summer to sit or sleep on. When you visit a Lappish teepee you’ll notice the ever-present reindeer hides.

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Reindeer skins are used for making bags, slippers, mittens and footwear. In the Sami language one type of footwear is called “nuvttot” which has the hairy side out. Reindeer suede and leather are suitable for making clothes. Reindeer skin is thin and easy to shape. It’s also comfortable to wear.

There are also a lot of products made from reindeer horn, such as handles, buttons and key fobs among other things.

IMG_0623In Rovaniemi they even have their own police-reindeer, Artturi. Other cities use to have police-dogs or -horses….:) Artturi is here watching over the reindeer cup in Rovaniemi city in March 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

The Sámis and their reindeer

Tourists arrive in Rovaniemi and wonder: Where are the Sámis and the reindeer? Well, I can tell, there are a few opportunities to see Sámis and reindeer also in Rovaniemi, but mostly the Finnish Sámis are seen in their own region – in the upper north of Finland where they have lived for centuries. On the map you see the area where the Sámis live in Scandinavia and Russia and they even have their own flag.

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Rovaniemi belongs to Lapland and is even the capital of Lapland but the city seems to be just like any other city most of the time of the year. The sámis turn up in the city on their yearly sámi meeting in January; the Sámi thing. In February there are reindeer races both on the trotting track of Rovaniemi as well as in the middle of the city center. These yearly events are popular for the tourists but also for the local people. At least I have attended these events several times. You are surprised how hard these reindeer really run! In the city of Rovaniemi there is even a police-reindeer, named Artturi. His mother was also a police-reindeer, Maija, but she unfortunately was killed by a car the other year.

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On the Arctic circle in the Santa Claus village you can meet sámis and their reindeer daily during tourist season around Christmas and also admire the beautiful dresses the sámis wear. By paying a small fee you can take a tour with some beautiful reindeer and you can also discuss the herding and the culture with a local sámi. Some years there has been arranged a sámi park also in the city center of Rovaniemi around Christmas.

 

 

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I am really crazy about reindeer. I just love these animals! At every opportunity I get I take photos of reindeer. I have got quite a few during these years. Mostly I see them out near the road, but on the Arctic circle they are so nicely fixed with ornaments and the reindeer brought there are so tame you can even touch them.

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The nicest ornaments on reindeer I saw on a trip once to the sámi area of Russia, Lovozero. We attended a reindeer market where the Russian sámis showed up their beautiful animals and also competed with them on reindeer races.

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In Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland, there are also reindeer statues in the parks.  IMG_8394IMG_8045IMG_5520

The Sámi people, also spelled Saami, are the indigenous people inhabiting the Arctic area of Sápmi, which today encompasses parts of far northern Sweden, Norway, Finland, the Kola Peninsula of Russia. IMG_2972The Sámis are the only indigenous people of Scandinavia recognized and protected under the international conventions of indigenous peoples, and hence the northernmost indigenous people of Europe. Their traditional languages are the Sámi languages and are classified as a branch of the Uralic language family. Traditionally, the Sámis have pursued a variety of livelihoods, including coastal fishing, fur trapping and sheep herding. Their best-known means of livelihood is semi-nomadic reindeer herding, with which about 10% of the Sámi are currently connected and 2,800 actively involved on a full-time basis. For traditional, environmental, cultural and political reasons, reindeer herding is legally reserved only for Sámi people in certain regions of the Nordic countries.

shamantrummaFor tourist groups there is arranged meetings with an original sámi shaman. These meetings are surrounded by a lot of secrecy and it is very exciting for the tourists. The shaman sits in his Lappish tepee and by the fireplace he cooks his coffee, hits his drum and starts telling stories to the guests. At the end of the ceremony he makes some marks of soot from the fireplace in the forehead of the guests and tells them they will eventually return to Lapland one day in the shape of a reindeer. That is not a bad destiny, is it?

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My first Rovaniemi autumn

As I arrived in Rovaniemi in September 2006 it was all new to me. I had never been that up north in my home country Finland. In September the beautiful “ruska” time was going on. Ruska is when the leaves on the trees turn from green to yellow and red before they finally fall off. I walked along the riverside of Kemijoki near my apartment and took a lot of pictures of the phenomenon with the yellow and red colored trees and the red colored ground. Where I used to live before the “ruska” never seemed to be as bright as it was here in Lapland. I just loved and enjoyed it now. The yellow color is the color of happiness and well-being and it appealed very good to my mental health. I got a happy and warm feeling inside.

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As you walk around on Ounasvaara hill there is the possibility to meet a reindeer and the chances to meet one when driving your car along the roads are also big. You have to be aware of that and look out for the grey, or sometimes even white, animals. They move very slowly though. They are not like the quick footed deer in the south of Finland, who just without warning jump out from nowhere in front of your car. Once as I was driving my car I met with a sleeping reindeer on the road! And it did not even bothered to move away as cars drove by! No wonder there are so many killed reindeer during the dark time of the year. There are also elks in this part of Finland, but I have not seen many of them during my stay here.

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