Lapland, From Icy Plunge to Blazing Sky

Check out this love letter to Sapmi in the New York Times. The story is in the travel section so I didn’t have high expectations, but it would have been nice to read more than one sentence about the Sámi: Early excavations suggest that this part of Lapland was inhabited as long as 11,300 years ago by the native ancestors of the Sami indigenous people, who still herd reindeer and eke out a living in the northernmost parts of Finland.”

We entered the hut, which had one changing room with a wood fireplace, and a larger sauna room. Then we set about roasting ourselves, ice-hole bathing, roasting and snow-angel-making in a cycle of extreme temperature change that Finns, and some controlled studies, say is good for the health.

Sitting in a bar that night, one of the men in our group remarked, “This whole country is about being either too hot or too cold.”

The next night, whole swaths of the sky danced with brilliant greens, purples and reds. Inside the curving, billowing, twisting streaks, the action was psychedelic. Tiny ripples, hundreds in parallel, danced like the light of a plasma lamp but with more variations of color and movement. What was green one second flashed to red, translucent and miles long. A streak that ran from horizon to horizon might phase out, then reappear at another location, or bend into the shape of an oxbow and spring back.

Finnish legend says that the lights are formed by a giant arctic fox running so quickly its tail sends plumes of snow from the fells, glittering across the night sky. It’s an unbelievable explanation for an unbelievable phenomenon that somehow smacks of truth

Finnish legend or Sámi legend? The Finnish word for the lights, revontulet, means foxfire, and is said here to come from a Sámi myth.

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