In winter, temperatures in Lapland can drop to -30ºC and parts of the region see snow falling on some 225 days of the year. Today is balmy -22ºC and I will spend it in a blind, trying to catch a sight of eagles in the frozen landscape.
Ice has to be scraped off the windows every morning and a paraffin heater struggles to get the inside temperature out of single digits. Despite days of waiting, I catch only the briefest glimpse of what might or might not be an eagle in the distance.
However, once I understand I am not going to lose my nose to frostbite, it is not the cold that affects me. It is the beauty. The thick carpet of snow sugar-frosts the endless stands of spruce and pine trees to create an ethereal view. The sun barely rises above the horizon, casting light that lasts only a few hours. For a photographer, a Lapland winter is a dream Christmas-card landscape, with a short working day that is a continuous Golden Hour. “Morning and night say hello to each other,” as a local woman describes it to me. Everything should be white, but the snow has endless shades, tinted by shadows and light, running through the rainbow from red to violet.
Just as snow has its many different shades, so does the silence. There is the silence of a breeze that has moved the high branches, of a wind-blown stream of snow crystals, of a break in a bird’s song. Then there’s the quiet of walking through deep snow, bone dry from the sub-zero temperature and with a negative silence that sucks in any sound. It is a silence where starting an engine, or even firing a camera shutter, is an assault on nature itself.
I realize that, to understand Lapland, you have to spend time in such silence. You disappear into your own thoughts and greater significance is attached to anything you say, or don’t say. “You will be thought a wise man, if you keep your mouth shut,” says a Finnish proverb.
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