Life is good – with sun, snow and skies

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis post should have been published a week or two ago. In the middle of April it is, when you call it “vårvinter”, probably the favourite season of many (northern) Swedes. It is the time between “spring” and “winter”, combining the best attributes – the sun and the snow. It is often warm enough to ski in a t-shirt only, sunny enough to burn your skin and icy enough to go out and fish.

 

never-enough-lapportenThis year I have learned to enjoy this time. No better way to be outside than on skis and with the munchkin pulled along in a comfy pram. I have also learned to truly appreciate the silence when being out alone. It is a strange feeling to see a landscape that empty. Here and there are snowhare tracks crossing, once in a while a moose walks over the hardened snowmobile tracks, but that is it. But this silence, this emptiness of the space around, this is really a gift. Maybe it takes the background of a life spend in noisy cities, but maybe it is one of the things people in small places like that love the most. It calms your mind being out here, it washes away all those busy thoughts.

Once in a while I read some news about the world and it always, always poisons my mind. It makes me upset. There are rarely any good news. Whenever I feel upset like that I go outside, I walk, ski or run a few kilometres and somewhere along the way the “medicine” kicks in. It is nothing more than having all this pure nature around and it takes over the bad and sad thoughts. After a while I feel calm, I dream about going on longer excursions, crossing this valley over there and climbing that mountain over here. I think about my friends, my family and all the good things in my life. funWhen I return it made my day.

I also discovered something the people in Abisko have, which is a true rare thing out there in our “modern world”. I would like to bottle it and sell it. But it is simply time. Time to stop and talk to each other. It is often not more than a few words about the weather, about what you did the other day, life here and the job there, but it is those few minutes – and if you know half the village those minutes add up – I enjoy a lot. I feel rich having this time just spending chatting, because non of those meetings are planned. If I go to the store I do not know if it takes me half an hour or one-and-a-half hour. I also spend this time by myself, just watching the skyline in just the right light or a bird in the tree next to me. It is those moments which not just make my day but add up to the story book of my life. And guess what? The bird in the tree next to me the other day was a hawkowl, just sitting there outside our house. I spend around half an hour watching it while it was watching everything else. Oh, and no, I had no camera with me.

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Update: since a few days the time of “May” has started. “May” is the worst month I heard up here. It is “neither … nor”, slush and mud, wet snow or soft snow, even no snow. Something in between, but nothing right. But with time on my side I will continue going out and find a way because no matter what, being outside is always better than being inside!

Enjoy your outdoors!

 

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First signs of autumn … after an intense summer

We had an amazing warm and sunny summer, as many places in Sweden. But now, two months after my post about the coming summer it seems time to change to autumn. Two months seems actually short compared to five months of white winter. Luckily we will still enjoy the colours of the forest, berries and changing leaves in mild temperatures before the winter comes. Temperatures fell a few days ago and the sun is finally setting again. The summer passed while we were busy working and relaxing from work (and myself from my bigger growing belly). The sunny times just swished by and one morning I realized all those little plans of things to do in summer are still “all those little plans”. Well, we will simply spend some more summers here.

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Thinking back two months it all started slow … in the middle of june the weather was turning backwards. Time to celebrate midsummer was not the time when the weather gods felt like “mid-summer”. Temperatures dropped to almost zero, along came rain, heavy clouds, foggy days and in the end even snowstorms. One day the snowcover came all the way down to Abisko.

But we did go out and about. One trip brought as north, as far north as you can go in Sweden. We visited “Treriksröset”, the meeting point between Norway, Sweden and Finland. It was the very end of june but still the start of the season up there and the birch trees were not completely green yet!

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It is a beautiful and wild landscape as it is here. Travelling south just a week ago it was similar, wild and beautiful. This time we visited Saltoluokta and it made Abisko look like a busy place. Saltoluokta is a small and peaceful mountain station, a perfect place to relax and get your mind off. The station is truly an old, cosy wooden house, build a hundred years ago. The scenery is stunning like it is here, with big mountains and long lakes, but there the lakes are due to the famous “hole” in the nationalpark – the dam of “Stora Sjöfallet”. It seems weird to know our ancestors set up nationalparks a hundred years ago but were not reluctant to cut a hole for setting up a dam and by though silencing one of Europe’s largest waterfalls. Thinking about it a moment it does not seem weird anymore since we do the same things today and the actual weird part is that we did not learn anything.

… well this is the remaining 5% of the once so magnificient waterfall ….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne thing I learned about living at a place “where others spend their vacation” is that it is not the same. Where you live is often where your work is and though comes daily life. Just living here does not help to get us out there everyday. Some days simply pass withough time nor energy left. But yes, it makes it easier if your backyard is the Kungsleden and Lapporten around the corner to get at least a short walk in a beautiful countryside. And like today, once the clouds lifted and the sun came through it is nice to just grab a jacket, a water bottle and a package of nuts and hit the trails. Today was the day when I finally found blueberries. I was sure the whole arctic is filled with blueberries, but Abiskodalen seemed pretty empty. The summer was especially hot and dry, granting cloudberries but less blueberries and – surprise – mosquitoes. As I mentioned before “there are no mosquitoes”, there were a few of course but very, very few.

When I say that there are first signs of autumn I referred to the winds, which came in from the east the last few days. I feel that the wind talks, it brings certain smells, certain air and feelings, it seems to tell stories and brings pictures alive. Those were the winds telling about the end of summer and coming autumn. I love autumn. It is such a beautiful season, there is so much longing, so much colour, fresh air, berries, changing lights, reflections …

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Another sign are the first coloured leaves. They will make everything even more beautiful. And the hiking season is at its top. Right now we have waves of exhausted hikers arriving in Abisko, all those participating in the annual “Fjällräven Classic”. About 2.000 of them will arrive here within a week. For me it is a little bit confusing seeing all those people hiking at the same time. I love competitions, running with some hundred others, but hiking for several days with so many people around seems odd. There are advantages and reasons to do so but most of our guests are coming here to be by themselves out there. All alone is one thing, but with some hundred others around, yEvening on Torneträskou wont see the odd bird or mammal along the trail. Actually the last mammals I’ve seen were a family of three mooses, a female with their two calves standing on the shore of a small lake. A nice picture but the moment I saw them a scary one too. The one animal you do not want to meet close anywhere is a female with young ones. Just hours later they were standing right next to the road and I was surprised that not a single car driver seemed to notice them.

Evening on Torneträsk

As much as we loved seeing the sun 24/7 it feels more natural having some dark hours at night again. Even though we have a completely dark sleeping room it effects our sleep in ways we understand first now once it’s dark again. Sleeping is simply much easier now. And sunsets are still beautiful …

One more month and we will have completed our first year in Abisko!

 

 

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Painting the gardens green – summer arrives in Abisko

greengardensWe are back! Three months have gone, not unnoticed but a rather small thing took up our thoughts and time. Once it will be bigger and join us in November we will be a small happy family.

The winter went on for quite some time, long into March and April. The only signs of spring were increasing light and temperatures and dozens of long distance travellers arriving through the air. In April the nights were already to light to see Northern Lights, the snow cover started to open up, but the ice on the lake remained. Life changed in a sense that it was off-season and with less tourists it seemed quieter and the speed of daily life calmed down. To be honest for a village like Abisko it decreased from a slow speed down to nearly no speed.

I was missing real spring with flowers, green trees and snowfree land a lot. It was in a way a harder time than the dark and cold times in mid-winter. The long-remaining snow in the forests kept anybody from going anywhere but along the road. It was a time of waiting and just wanting to escape south. What I did a few times and it kept me going until, in mid May the first flowers showed up and birds started singing and nesting. Of course this is a personal experience, since most of my colleagues and the locals just could not get enough of the snow, the skiing adventures and the ice-fishing on Torneträsk.

springflowersQuite unexpected the light came back so fast it simply took over the nights. As I mentioned already in April nights were not really dark anymore but in May nights were lit up by daylight and the sunsets began to simply float over into the sunrises. Spending many years in cities, with a view out of the window into the neighbouring windows instead of the sky and the horizon I really enjoy watching a beautiful sunset every night. It made me start a series of maybe cheezy, maybe just naturally beautiful sunset pictures.

 

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One factor contributing to those colourful events is the bold weather in Abisko. It is the driest place in all of Sweden, even if clouds cover the sky it rarely rains here. But all those high clouds make the sunsets so different and beautiful. As I clearly saw when flying south, the skies here are incredible blue and clear as well. Just landing in Stockholm the sky was covered by a greyish curtain, even worse above Berlin.

Everybody here around enjoys those beautiful warm and sunny days, especially since there are no(t many –update-) mosquitos yet. The fresh green of the birch trees are a nice contrast to the remaining patchy snow on the mountains. The ice on the lake finally started to break up in late may, with now just some ice racks left, slowly floating around.

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Finally with the beginning of the summer season the trails will open up again for hiking folks and we will extend our trips around. It is all about enjoying the life of summer, watching the birds, finding new plants and experiencing it with all senses. As I realized recently the winter is just a plain season compared with the others. It has its special beauty but it has no smells and very little sounds too. Spending half my life in forests I’m used to smell the soil, the plants, the air. Here it is the marshes which open up, the soil as well and the winds coming from the North Sea.

A last few words about the wildlife. The reindeers are coming back of course, it seems all on their own pace. Mooses are around but acting more reclusive now. Hares and minks are always here and of course plenty of birds. It seems to be a good rodent year as we’ve observed owls (Short-eared owl) several times as well as rough-legged buzzards and kestrels. Having raptors around is an exciting experience.  So we will go and spend time outside, especially the very nice and calm evenings just observing life live.

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The best winter

Being active, being out there is the main thing to do. Sure we have a lovely small gym in town and gather for a weekly work-out. But with the best playground right outside our door:

wildplayground we are just happy about going out every day!

Our main activity was x-country skiing. We discovered the tracks in Björkliden (village around the corner) and the ones in Kiruna (nearest shopping centre). Just nine miles east the land is almost flat and the pine trees take oOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAver. The forest looks very much like any forest down south and skiing there feels like being in Dalarna preparing for the Vasaloppet.

Skiing in Björkliden, along the Rallarvägen (Navvy Road) there is always a piece of history to discover. One day a friend and I stopped to visit “Rallarkyrkogård”, with the oldest crosses set 1900. The railroad between Kiruna and Narvik was build between 1898 and 1902. Back in those days this work was handcraft. The hard work, the harsh arctic climate and diseases like tuberculosis killed many men and women. The need of the railroad was based on the mine in Kiruna and transporting the ore to the nearest harbour. But still today a lot of the tourism (with skiing, hiking and Northern lights) and the ongoing ore transports are based on the railroad. It is worth to be reminded about those men and women working so hard to make this possible.

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We also keep up with snowshoeing, sometimes uphill, sometimes running. Depending on the snow conditions (which easily change daily) snowshoeing is easier than skiing. The downside is going downhill. We still have to find a better when then simply walking down.

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Snow, Ice and Sun

Wow, over a month has passed since the last post here. It was a busy time. The first very impressive moment happened on the 27th of january. Keith was back from Ecuador and we went up Nuolja with snowshoes. We got away quite late but could see some sunlight up on top. In the end of january the sun is still not visible in Abisko but on the mountain tops north and south from here. We made an effort to make it to the spot and got the last sunrays of the day around 2 pm.

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After that things rolled on fast into the high season with the Northern Lights still dancing all night (sometimes behind the clouds though) and the tourist numbers just ascending. We got a lot more work to do with a few weeks ago the skiing season starting. All lifts are running, the pists are prepared and the huts along Kungsleden are open. The place is filled with life and sunlight. Somehow, in all that great winter weather some start dreaming about the summer. But still so it is the best winter here with not a single day passing without the inviting sunshine and view out there. And not a single day without us either exploring the beauty or working.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATemperatures had been a little bit confusing. After the long cold January we got weeks of pleasant -5° C degrees and some clouds but no fresh snow. Now and then the temperatures dropped a little but never as deep as in January. Instead, last week, the thermometer jumped above 0°C. The effect was that roads and trails turned into icy tracks, skiing became dangerous and so did walking. The only way out was running with dubbs.

We spend some time out on lake Torneträsk, running with snowshoes or skiing until a small storm last week blew away the snowcover and opened the ice for iceskating again. “Worth to see” I thought one afternoon, crabbed my camera and went down to the shore. The first steps were alright, tons of cracks run through the ice and show its magnificent depth of at least half a metre. But further away from the shore the ice was so clear that the view fell straight down to the ground. “Scary” was what I was thinking and feeling. Having fear of heights standing on seemingly nothing felt simply very unpleasant. My plans about walking around the island a few hundred metres off shore sank to the ground. But the lake offers new views and chances everyday. The turn in colour, structure and appearance is endless.

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And now we hope for fresh snow in the end of the week!

The winter lights over Lapland

Temperatures have dropped to -20°C and below. The lake has frozen over and all the clouds have disappeared. The sunlight slowly comes back, pouring its light over the northern mountain slopes. The cold holds on to every single little branch and brings glitter into this breath-taking winter landscape. There is nearly no wind, sounds are traveling far and the loneliness surrounding yourself is stunning.

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I spend my recent free days outside, despite the low temperatures. I could not stay inside and watch the light floating over the mountains and the northern skies, in all stages of pink, dark blue, orange and yellow. I just had to go outside, be there and explore the trails.

Finally I thought there must be some skotertrails I could run or walk on. Of course I wanted to run! But was it possible? Was it comfortable to breath? Yes it was. All it took was half an hour of layering-up, covering each centimeter of skin double and tripple. Without any wind there was no chill factor and I spend two beautiful hours just following packed trails south of Abisko, surrounding the village and following the Kungsleden towards Abiskojaure a bit.

I did learn a few things like 1. do not try to go off the trail … even hard snow breaks through and it takes five times as much energy and time to cover some hundred metres 2. you might run for two hours, your camera battery won’t 3. running shoes are not well insulated and 4. speed and distance do not matter, just enjoy!

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The day after the run took its toll and I did not feel up for more training. But the day went on to be as beautiful as the previous one and did not leave me with any choice but to head out again. This time I choose snowshoes to hike up a bit on Nuolja. “A bit” is rarely an option when there is peak to climb! Soon I decided to do so. The ski slope was obviously used and walking on it was no problem. I was half way up when I changed my goal to make it to the top.

run_beauty1 I had all the warm clothes possible plus a thermos jug with hot chocolate and some biscuits with me. But being all by myself I felt somewhat unsure entering the wide, dimensionless White which lays all around the “Aurora Sky Station” at 900m and up.

Reaching the station I felt having a short refueling stop, kind of a tradition it seems. With new energy I took off towards the top. Skyline after skyline of packed snowridge tricked me being the top so at some point I just stopped and called it the end. It did no matter to be the top or not, it was stunning. Just the scenery: being surrounded by white land and clear blue sky plus the amazing lights on the horizon but nothing else was breath-taking. It felt like being at the right spot, at the right time, just being there, nowhere else, not even in my thoughts. Time past while I was looking around, trying to understand and take in the landscape. I also tried to catch the moment with my camera but I couldn’t. I have some nice pictures but it is not the same. How do you catch the space on a two-dimensional, 10×15 cm picture?

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January 2014 and finally the ice is coming

Here we go, back again in 2014!

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Since the last blog-entry one month past and we spend half of it south, in warm and sunny Germany. The best part, besides visiting friends and family, was to see the sun. Felt like cheating though. But hey, we actually really missed it. The first glimpse we got was on the plane to Stockholm – and we celebrated. Quite cool to start in the dark (around 1 pm) and fly into the afternoon sunset. On the 30.12. we returned and the tape ran backwards. The last we saw on the airport field looked like a sunset. But most people turned the other way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt seems quite surprising that the flight guests are allowed to stand and walk around on the airport field. But somehow this situation must be similar for a handful small airports around the globe. Turists simply love to take a picture of airports the sign, the date, time and temperature. I did the same when I first landed here in january 2005. Plus I took a picture of the sign for “dogsled parking”. Now you get the “be aware – dogsleds crossing” as well. But I thought it is more fun to take a picture of all the others taking pictureOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAs. The temperature when we landed was nothing special, around -2°C. Special was the snowload on our car, at least somewhat unexpected after we spend all holidays on bare ground. Luckily we had half an hour before our friends landed and could heat and clean up the car. Not surprising this is an ongoing pleasure for the next few months. Luckily it does not snow so much in Abisko, it is Kiruna which gets it all. When visiting the town yesterday I understood why the houses where build so far apart. All the space in between is needed to pile up the snow! Sorry Europe, but it is northern Lapland which got all the snow you missed out on. The landscape looks beautiful, all covered in white, just like a christmas fairy tale. I could not stop to take pictures or to enjoy the view since temperatures had dropped to -12°C and below while the roads where covered with the mischievous “snörök”. Google can’t translate it, but it is simply “snow and smoke”= snowsmoke. It describes the whirling and twirling snow when a truck passes your car and you can’t see anything anymore. Kind of a white-out for some seconds. It is definitely not pleasant and very wise to stay on one own’s side of the road and only there not to far right either. Cars easily slight down and somehow snow seems more tenuous than ice. Some lessons I learned by sight and by “aahhh”.

Back to our headlines – the ice is coming. After visiting Torneträsk latest on the 03.01. I was surprised to see it partly frozen today. The strange motionless patterns seen from the house revealed the ice had come. I went down shortly after “sunset” and pictured some of the ice’ sculptures, little monsters, frozen bubbles, waves and dunes captured in ice and the blue and pink skies above. I also stood and listened to the ice, making some interesting cracking and singing sounds. There is one more dimension to discover.

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