The days are dark and difficult. We retreat from the winter, gather together with our people and our animals and tell tales of travels and adventures, safe by the fire.
I had an adventure once. I took a 7 day trip to the Arctic Circle to dog sled through the white wilderness like the traditional reindeer herders of that region, the Sami people. It was a life time experience. I have memories of my sledge flying across vast frozen lakes, my team of three huskies yelping in joy. I have memories of the bright, blue, midwinter daylight slowly tipping into the night some time around mid afternoon. Of cold hands gripping onto the frame with last strength as the welcome candlelight of the lodge came into view. Of collecting icewater from the stream and chopping wood to make fires and elk stew. Of drinking champagne on a frozen lake and watching the Northern Lights dance weirdly green across the pine tops on a New Year’s Eve.
It was an exhausting and challenging adventure but also exhilarating. The sketches I made when I was there take me back. Travel sketchbooks preserve memories more precisely somehow. Both emotion and weather condition are reflected in drawn lines that photography could never replicate.
I remember sitting in the warmth of the laavu, the traditional tent the Sami use on their long treks herding reindeer across the Arctic Circle.
I remember drinking soup and eating black reindeer blood pancakes while listening to tales told of a Sami childhood. She knelt on the skins, casually stirring the pot. Her neck suddenly stretched upwards and she howled to the sky. ‘We lay on our backs in the snow,’ she said, ‘and called to the Northern Lights, daring them to come down and take us. They never did.’
I remember the dogs, at day’s end, curling up in snow holes to stay warm through the night.
I looked back at the area on Google Satellite many years later – all snow and black treelines, the sledge tracks visible – etched into the grey ice of the lakes quite clearly. The creation of two maps followed, commemorating the time in white ink on black; shapes simplified as they were in the darkness.
I don’t know if I’ll ever have another adventure like that, perhaps due to the pandemic, perhaps due to climate change, but I’m glad I had it and have made those memories into drawings. During this difficult cold time, when the dark comes early and the Northern Lights could swoop down at any moment, I’ll hunker down with my people and my animals. I’ll look back at those memories and retell the stories, dreaming of when the sun returns and travel and adventure might happen again.