Country Within The Arctic Circle
( Originally Published 1881 )
THE country, which extends from the Gulf of Bothnia to the northern extremity of Europe, is almost entirely within the arctic circle, and presents a vegetation not seen elsewhere at such high latitudes. Vast areas are covered with forests of pine and fir, the latter predominating, while many hills are clad with the white birch to their very top.
One can travel long distances by water, boat stations being found on the shores of the lakes and streams. A glance at the map shows how well watered the country is : the rivers swarm with salmon, and the lakes with other fish.
The Lule, the Kalix, and the Torne are the main rivers in those regions. The Kemiflows through Finland.
The Torne River is the longest and the most northerly stream falling into the Gulf of Bothnia, and it now forms the boundary between Sweden and Russian Finland. Its north ern branch, the Muonio, rises in Lake Kilpijarvi, 69° N., three hundred miles from the sea ; while the Alters, Tana, and other less important streams flow northward into the Arctic Ocean. The mountains slope gently on this side, but fall grand and steep towards Norway.
On the banks of some of the rivers are numerous farms and hamlets, often surrounded by fine meadows and fields of rye, oats, and barley. Vegetation is wonderfully rapid under the influence of almost constant sunshine, seven or eight weeks only intervening between the sowing and the harvest.
The journey from Haparanda to the Arctic sea is extremely interesting, both in summer and in winter, the distance in an air-line being over five degrees of latitude to the most northern extremity of the land ; but the route traversed to Cape Nordkyn' and to the Magero Sound is about five hundred miles. The country is inhabited by Finns, who are cultivators of the soil. The Laplanders roam over the land with their herds of reindeer. The summer climate is delightful, and during the period of continuous daylight one can travel all night if he pleases. But there are great drawbacks : from the end of June to nearly the end of August the country is infested with swarms of mosquitoes, which are very annoying. The fare is coarse, and, to one not accustomed to it, not very palatable.
From Haparanda the high-road goes northward as far as Pajala and Kengis, a distance of over seventeen Swedish miles, passing at times through a beautiful country, and then through forests, moorlands, and desolate regions. There are eleven post-stations, where horses are changed, and where food and lodging may be obtained. On the journey very little luggage should be taken.
We will now for awhile leave the shores of the Bothnia, and go northward, to gain a knowledge of the summer climate of those regions.
The afternoon of my departure the yard of the hotel presented an unusually animated appearance. The judge, the custom-house officers, the banker, and other newly-made friends, had assembled to drink to my health, and to the success of my Journey. Speeches were made, and a last admonition was given to my guide, Josefsson, to take good care of me. As my horse started all raised their hats and gave three cheers. 'I returned them, and, with a crack of the whip, started : as I turned my head to get a last look, they were still cheering and waving their hats. My wiry animal paced at a very rapid gait, without a touch of the whip. We passed two or three farm-houses, well painted, with nice enclosures around the gar-dens. The Torne River, with its numerous islands, appeared at times; in the distance rose Avasaxa; while woods, meadows, cultivated fields, painted houses, and far-off hills completed a charming landscape. The weather was delightful, the atmosphere dry and bracing, the thermometer marking during the day 68° to 70°. Late in the evening I stopped at a post-station where the family spoke Swedish, the hamlet consisting of a few scattered farms. The people were at first shy ; but, after hearing that I was from America, they became friendly, for several persons from that district had emigrated to the United States. The farm was about twenty miles from the arctic circle. The disappearance of the sun below the horizon was short, and the sunset very brilliant. The sunrise which followed a short time afterwards was indescribably beautiful.
During the night of bright daylight several carts entered the yard. The men unharnessed their horses, put them into the stable, gave them the hay that they had carried with then], and water, and then went into one of the houses, where they could rest and sleep; for in this part of the world the doors of the dwellings are not locked. Some stopped only to rest their horses, while others remained to get the sleep they needed. Most of these carts were loaded with miscellaneous goods, on their way to some country store or hamlet ; others had bags of Russian flour, the supply from the farm having run short.
After a breakfast of smoked reindeer meat, butter, cheese, and hard bread, and an excellent cup of coffee, I left the station. The wife at first refused payment, as I had, she said, given more than an equivalent in presents to the children.
At this time of the year the men were busy, either in the fields, floating timber down the stream, or at the saw-mills.
At every station I had a young girl for a driver,and these children of the North seemed not in the least afraid of me. My first driver's name was Ida Catharina: she gave me a silver ring, and was delighted when she saw it on my finger. I promised to bring her a gold one the following winter, and
I kept my word. She was glad indeed, when, at the end of the drive, after paying, I gave her a silver piece. Another driver, twelve years of age, was named Ida Carolina. The tire of one of our wheels became loose, but she was equal to the emergency; she alighted, blocked the wheel with a stone, went to a farm-house and borrowed a few nails and a hammer, and
with the help of the farmer made everything right in a few minutes; she did not seem in the least put out by the accident. She chatted with me all the time, though I did not understand what she said, for I did not then know the Finnish language. She was a little beauty, with large blue eyes, thick fair hair, and rosy cheeks. From early life children are taught to depend upon themselves.
Niemis was the next station : the little farm stood by itself, looking poor enough; there were four or five low buildings, with roofs covered with turf. The small house for travellers was scrupulously clean, but had only one room, with two beds, a few chairs, a table, a looking-glass, and a bureau, in which the family stored their wealth ; next to this room was a little closet where the milk was kept.
The dwelling-house, close by, was a humble one, and dirty. Its occupants were an aged man, with long, shaggy, black hair, his wife, and a niece, a fair-haired girl named Kristina, who, when I arrived, immediately washed her face and hands, combed her hair, put a clean skirt over her dirty one, adjusted a clean handkerchief on her head, and her toilet was complete. The coffee-pot was then put on the fire, and a cup of coffee was made. The old woman was dark-complexioned, and her hair was almost black—traits certainly not of the Scandinavian or Finnish type; she reminded me of a gypsy. When she heard where I had. come from she suddenly hugged me; I, in good-humor, returned the compliment, regardless of consequences, for her hair looked suspicious. When ready to leave, the old fellow, who was my driver, had managed to put on his best coat, which appeared to be some fifteen or twenty years old.
The next station was Ruskola, the best stopping-place between Haparanda and Pajala. The farmer find his wife spoke Swedish, and both understood what comfort meant. The farm was large and productive. At a short distance was the hamlet of Matarengi, with a strange-looking red church, quite old, with a separate belfry, and the parsonage close by. There were several country stores, which reminded me of those found in little villages in America. Many of the farms seemed thrifty, and there was a large tract of cultivated land and fine meadows. We were in the socken (parish) offre Tornea, which had a population of about twenty-seven hundred.
Should one be detained, lie may drive as far as Pajala, and from the high hills on the other side of the stream at that place may enjoy the sight of the midnight suri a few days later. How strange to those living in more southern latitudes are those evening and morning twilights, which merge insensibly into each other! to travel in a country where there is no night, and no stars to be seen ; where the moon gives no light, and, going farther north, where the sun shines continuously day after day ! The stranger at first does not know when to go to bed and when to rise ; but the people know the hours of rest by their clocks and watches, and by looking at the sun.
I fell into a deep sleep, and when I awoke the sun shone brightly; but this was no sign of a late hour, as it was only three A.M. I slept again; and when I awoke everything was so still in the house that I took another nap; when I awoke for the third time, I found that my watch had stopped ; then going into the next room, I saw by the clock there that it was one o'clock P.m. The family laughed, for they had kept quiet for fear of disturbing me.
In these latitudes the snow has hardly melted when the mosquitoes appear in countless multitudes, and the people have no rest night or day. They had already appeared, and their numbers increased daily; they became more voracious, and their sting more painful; in wooded districts they are a perfect plague in the month of July and until the middle of August, after which a gnat appears. This bites very hard during the day, but at night leaves one in peace, for it never enters the houses. Last of all comes a species of sand-fly, which also is very disagreeable. I was surprised, at a turn of the road, to see a black cloud, apparently composed of minute flies. It was a swarm of mosquitoes, so thick that it was impossible to see anything beyond. I was hurrying the horse through it when the animal suddenly stopped, and then I saw three men working on the road who had previously been in-visible. This seems incredible, but such are the facts. Josefsson laughed, and observed," We have a saying here, that when a traveller comes he writes his name in a bed of mosquitoes, and when he comes back the following year he sees it again."
We drove rapidly through the cloud, but a part of the swarm followed us like birds of prey. They surrounded us in myriads, and their hum was far from charming. I had never seen such immense swarms before, and had never met any-thing of the kind in the swamps of the Southern States, in New Jersey, or in Equatorial Africa. One should wear a veil around a broad-brimmed hat, to protect the face. The natives bear the-plague with apparent equanimity. These mosquitoes are a distinct species, being heavy and easily killed, and not taking to wing like the better-known varieties ; their bite was less painful than that of the common kind, but it was by no means pleasant. I was obliged to put on gloves, for I had hardly crushed hundreds when the nest instant the number of my assailants became as great as before.
Everywhere I noticed the kindness of the people towards their beasts of burden. Horses cannot be hurried where the country is hilly, though I suppose it is sometimes done when a man is under the influence of liquor, or is wicked at heart.
A horse, as soon as he comes to the foot of a hill, stops when he thinks it is time for the people to get out, turns his head towards the vehicle to see that every one is off, and then ascends. If all are not out, he waits, and, when urged by the voice, or by a slight, harmless touch of the whip, he seems quite astonished, and often during the ascent stops and turns his head, as if to say to the remaining occupant, "Why don't you get out ?" The farmers and their families invariably walk up-hill; hence the horses are disagreeably surprised when their load remains, especially when the whip slightly touches them- on the bank. From one station to another the driver often stops, cuts his black bread into small pieces, gives them to the horse, caresses him, treats him to a handful of hay,and then continues his route. This kind treat-ment not only speaks well for the people, but it also makes the horses exceedingly gentle and docile, vicious ones are seldom found. Colts are much petted, and often come into the kitchen, where they are caressed, and treated to salt, or some-thing else they-like.
The station where I remained for the night was poor enough. The building for travellers had only one room finished, and mien were sleeping on skins on the floor, and others-on benches, in their ordinary clothing. An old woman with her daughter and her baby were in one bed, an old man was in another, and everything looked dirty. I could get only cold fish to eat; one of 'the men offered to-go and. spear some, but I concluded to eat this and go to sleep. Some fresh hay was placed on the floor, two reindeer skins were spread over it, a sheep-skin blanket was put over all, and my couch was complete.
The traveller is surprised to meet so many comfortable farms, with large dwelling-houses, which, with the barn and cow-house, are the three prominent buildings. There are several other house besides, such as sheds, storehouses, black-smith shops, etc. In the yard, which is generally enclosed by the houses on three sides, is the old-fashioned well with its sweep, a bucket at one end and a stone at the other. From the well a trough communicates with the building where the cows are kept. This structure is peculiar; the ceiling is low, the windows very small, giving but little light; the place is entirely floored, and pens are built on each side; along these a gutter gathers all the manure, which is preserved with great care. The cattle do not lie on straw or hay. At one end of the room is a large piece of masonry, encasing an iron pot three or four feet in diameter and three feet deep, used for cooking food for the cattle; this food is generally coarse marsh grass, mixed with the dust coming from the threshing of the grain; this pot is also used as the bathing and washing-tub. Sheep, when numerous, have a house by themselves; if not, they are penned in a corner. There is a separate stable for the horse.
The dwelling, with few exceptions, consists of a single story, usually containing two rooms, one on each side. One is used as bakery and kitchen, and also as a sleeping-room; at one corner is the fireplace, a strange structure, six or eight feet square, made of solid flat slabs of stone, generally plastered over. Wood is placed in these ovens, and, when it is consumed and only charcoal remains, a sliding iron trap-door prevents the heat from escaping, warming the walls. The heat thus produced for the first few hours is very great, and often the room is made unbearable to those who are not accustomed to such an atmosphere, which is often retained for two or three days ; in one section of the structure there is an open fireplace used for cooking. Beds are placed along the walls, in number according to the size of the family. These are a kind of sliding box, so that they can be made of different widths, according to the requirements ; they are filled With hay or straw, furnished with home-made blankets or sheep-skins, and sometimes with eider-down covers and pillows. In the morning the box is drawn in, and, when covered with a board, answers for a sofa, upon which people rest during the day. The whole family, including servants, males and females, sleep in this room. On the other side is the guest-room, which is also used as a sleeping apartment. One or two bedsteads, the beds filled with the down of the eider-duck, the blankets made of the same material, form the chief part of the furniture.
There are many small and poor farms, where a large family has to work hard to get a living from the soil; in their homes, dirty and crowded, typhus fever often makes great ravages. The farms are generally by the banks of rivers or near lakes, for there the land is better, and fish is plentiful.
The living eked out of the soil in this northern region would be scanty indeed but for the fish caught in these waters, and the abundance of game-birds. The money obtained from the sale of these, together with the revenue derived from the dairy, often constitute the farmer's sole income.
From Matarengi the road ascends a steep hill, out of sight of the river, passing for several miles through a desolate country, made more dreary by the burning of the forests.
Between the stations of Kunsijarvi and Ruokojarvi (järvi means lake in Finnish) we crossed the arctic circle at 66° 32' N., or 1408 geographical miles south from the pole, where the sun shines for an entire day on the 22d of June, and the observer will see it above the horizon at midnight, and due north. After that date, by journeying north on an average of about ten miles a day, he would continue to see the mid-night suri till he reached the pole. On the 22d of September the sun descends to the horizon, where it will rest, so to speak, all day long ; on the following day it disappears till the 22d of March.
When returning southwards at the same rate, the traveller will continue to see the midnight sun in his horizon till he reaches the arctic circle, where for one day only, as we have seen, the sun is visible.
The sun at midnight is always north of the observer, on account of the position of the earth. It seems to travel around a circle, requiring twenty-four hours for its completion, it being noon when it reaches the greatest elevation, and midnight at the lowest. Its ascent and descent are so imperceptible at the pole, and the variations so slight, that it sinks south very slowly, and its disappearance below the horizon is almost immediately followed by its reappearance.
I will now try to explain the phenomenon of the midnight sun: the earth revolves about the sun once every year, and rotates on its axis once every twenty-four hours. The earth's orbit, or path described by it in its annual revolution about the sun, is, so to speak, a circle somewhat elongated, called an ellipse. The axis, about which the daily rotation takes place, is a straight line passing through the centre of the earth, and the extremities of which are called poles--one the north, and the other the south pole. The axis is not perpendicular to the plane of the orbit, but is inclined to it at an angle of 23° 28', which angle is called the obliquity of the ecliptic. The earth, therefore, in moving about the sun, is not upright, but inclined, so that in different parts of its course it presents always a half, but always a different half, of its surface to the sun—which will be plain from the accompanying diagram. Twice in the year, March 21st and September 21st, the exact half of the earth along its axis is illuminated. On these dates, therefore, any point on the earth's surface is, during a rotation of the earth on its axis, half the time in light, and half in darkness—that is, day and night are twelve hours each all over the globe. For this reason these dates are called equinoxes—March 21st being the vernal, and September 21st the autumnal equinox. As the earth moves on in its orbit after March 21st, the north pole inclines more and more towards the sun till June 21st, after which it turns slowly from it. On September 21st day and night are again equal all over the earth, and immediately after this the north pole is turned entirely from the sun, and does not receive its light again till the following March. It will thus be seen that from the vernal to the autumnal equinox the north pole is in sunlight, and has a day of six months' duration. As the north pole becomes more and more inclined towards the sun, more and more of the region around that pole becomes illuminated, and therefore any point in that region is, for any given twenty-four hours, longer in light than in darkness, and its day is longer than its night. The nearer any point is to the pole the longer during this time is its day.
The number of days, therefore, of constant sunshine depends on the latitude of the observer; and the farther north he finds himself the greater will be this number. Thus, at the pole, the sun is seen for six months, at the arctic circle for one day, and at the base of the North Cape from the 15th of May to the 1st of August. At the pole the observer seems to be in the centre of a grand spiral movement of the sun, which farther south takes place north of him.
We have here spoken as if the observer were on a level with the horizon; but should he climb a mountain, the sun, of course, will appear higher; and should he, instead of travelling fifteen miles north, climb about 220 feet above the sea-level each day, he would see it the same as if he had gone north ; consequently, if he stood at the arctic circle at that elevation, and had an unobstructed view of the horizon, he would see the sun one day sooner. If he should climb to a greater height, and have the same unobstructed view, he would see the midnight sun for a correspondingly longer time. Hence the tourists from Haparanda prefer going to Avasaxa, a hill 680 feet above the sea, from which, though eight or ten miles south of the arctic circle, they can see the midnight sun for three days.
The brilliancy of the splendid orb varies in intensity, like that of sunset and sunrise, according to the state of moisture of the atmosphere. One day it will be of a deep-red color, tingeing everything with a roseate hue, and producing a drowsy effect. There are times when the changes in the color between the sunset and sunrise might be compared to the variations of a charcoal fire, now burning with a fierce red glow, then fading away, and rekindling with greater brightness.
There are days when the sun has a pale, whitish appearance, and when even it can be looked at for six or seven_ hours before midnight. As this hour approaches, the sun becomes less glaring, gradually changing into more brilliant shades as it dips towards the lowest point of its course. Its motion is very slow, and for quite awhile it apparently follows the line of the horizon, during which there seems to be a pause, as when the sun reaches noon. This is midnight. For a few minutes the glow of sunset mingles with that of sunrise, and one cannot tell which prevails ; but soon the light becomes slowly and gradually more brilliant, announcing the birth of another day -and often before an hour has elapsed the sun. becomes so dazzling that one cannot look at it with the naked eye.
At the hamlet of Pirtiniemi, on the banks of a small lake, the high-road suddenly ended, being continued on the opposite shore. A few farms were seen, but considerable patience was required before a traveller could pursue his way; the horses had been let loose in the wood, to seek their own food, and it took some time to find them. Arriving at the shore, we crossed in a large fiat-boat, which could take two carts and two horses; it was managed by two old women, who by their vigorous pulls showed that they understood their business; ten minutes were occupied in crossing to the northern side, where there were several farms. The cattle were mostly of small size, but very fine; there was also a superb herd of twenty-six cows, nearly all of which were white.
My driver, a girl of about thirteen, seemed to have no fear of me, although not another soul was to be seen on the high-road, and Josefsson was far behind. I gave her some candy, with which she was delighted, and, putting her arm around my neck, gave me a kiss.
The drive continued to be monotonous, but I loved to tarry at the different hamlets. At Sattajarvi, the last post-station before reaching Pajala, old and young flocked around me, and Josefsson held them in conversation. They marvelled when they heard that he had been in America; and, pointing to me, shouted, " Talk American to him !" and then all became silent to hear us talk.
Children came up in swarms to join the merry party. I thought I never had seen such a gathering of beautiful young people. Their coarse diet seemed to agree with them, for they were pictures of health. The girls had such pretty names as Ida., Kristina, Levisa, Margarita, Elsa, and Helena. They were handsome, with light hair, deep-blue eyes, rosy complexions, and pearly skins ; and presented a marked contrast with the older women, who appeared careworn, and bore the traces of hard work.
Girls in Scandinavia do very little hard work until they are confirmed. Their early years are passed in school; but they develop early, for they have household duties to perform, and plenty of exercise in milking and feeding the cattle, and working a little in the fields. All this tends to health and the development of muscle. Between the ages of fifteen and seven-teen many are extremely beautiful; but they soon fade, their features becoming coarse later in life. I asked some of them if they would like to go to America, and the answer was an enthusiastic " Yes!"
I especially noticed one, named Kristina, about sixteen years of age, who followed me, in company with many others, wherever I went. She seemed to be attracted towards me, often holding my hand, and entering into animated conversations. "Would you like to be my driver, and come with me to America?" I asked. "Yes!" said the girl, her beautiful northern blue eyes looking at me; and " Yes!'' said her mother. Mother and daughter suddenly disappeared, and I thought I had frightened them away; but they had gone to prepare dinner for me.
When ready to leave the place, the following adventure awaited me: I was astonished to see Kristina coming towards me with all her fortune—a bundle of clothes-wrapped in a handkerchief. Her father, mother, sisters and brothers, were by her side. All the population of Sattajarvi had come to say good-bye to the girl. She was dressed in her best clothes, as if going upon a journey ; and as I stepped into the cart she followed me, and all the people shouted, " Good-bye ! Live well ! Write to us, Kristina !"
"Are you going to take that girl to America ?" said Josefsson to me. " The road is too hard for her to. follow us." "Certainly not," said I. "She is to drive us to Pajala." "No," said he; "they expect you to take her with you to America. Don't you see? all her family are here. Her father has come from the fields all the people are here to say good-bye; and she has all her clothing in that parcel. They all believed you were in earnest."
" Tell them," said I, "that she is going to drive me, as several other girls have done before, but only to Pajala ; that I cannot take her through the hard country in which I am to travel; and that she would not have strength to follow me."
The mother began to cry ; she wanted her daughter to go to America with me. "Man !" said she, "are you going to listen to your guide ? I am sorry for you, that you have no will of your own ; I pity you."
Kristina got out of the vehicle, became angry, and would not drive me. As we left, the mother sent a volley of reproaches after poor Josefsson, who said they had all believed that but for him I would have taken the girl with me to America. Visions of wealth for their daughter had appeared to them ; but the castle they had built in such a short time was already a ruin. The people, however, called after me to "come again."
A drive of about two hours brought me to Pajala, the spire. of whose parish church, gilded by the rays of the midnight sun, was seen in the distance.
The hamlet is near 67° 10' lat., on the right bank of the Torre River, which it overlooks, a little above its junction with the Muonio, at which point the stream is three hundred and thirty feet above the level of the Gulf of Bothnia.
The population is about one hundred and fifty, with twenty-five homesteads, thirty- five horses, two hundred and twenty head of cattle, and about six hundred sheep ; so that there was plenty of wool for homespun clothing. The richest man was said to be worth about ten thousand dollars, and several others are worth from one to four thousand—the former sum buying here a pretty good farm, with a comfortable dwelling-house, and other buildings. The parish numbered three thou-sand five hundred and twenty-five souls. It has now a fine school-house, which is a credit to the small population of that northern region. The place has a very comfortable inn, whose charges were very moderate. At that time of the year salmon was abundant, and this, with delicious soft bread, dried or smoked reindeer meat, milk, good coffee, excellent tea (which no doubt came from Russia), and Swedish beer, made up the bill of fare: everything was served in a cleanly way, and con: stituted a repast fit for a king.
The salmon rarely bite at the hook, but are caught in traps or nets placed just above the rapids, or where the water runs swiftly. While I was in Haparanda several boat-loads were landed daily. This year the price was considered high—five kronor for twenty pounds' weight, while in some years it is not more than three or four kronor ; but it will become dearer year after year, as, with the introduction of steamers, the people have begun to export fish.
The parsonage, where I was received with great kindness, was large, with everything in it scrupulously clean and simple; the pine floors were without carpets, but spotless; the books revealed the culture of the owner, and the newspapers from Stockholm, received weekly by post, showed that even here the people could know what was going on in the world.
The church was a fine building, in the shape of a Greek cross. The ceiling was concave, the pulpit simple—a relic of the old church : on the altar was a picture of the Saviour crucified, and Mary Magdalene coming to him. The burial-ground, not immediately adjacent, was enclosed by a rough stone wall, the entrance being through a white-painted gate. The first object that struck my eye was the coffin of a little child lying on the ground, covered with a white pall, which had been sent to be buried on the following Sunday. Then I came to a grave, surroueded by a painted railing about eight feet square ; in the centre was a circular mound, in the middle of which was a rose-bush in a pot, and a young girl was watering it. " This is the grave of my mother," said the worthy parson. " We have no grave-diggers," he added, " and the families of the dead dig the grave themselves. In the old graveyard lies the body of Læstadins, who did so much good in preaching to the Lapps against the vice of drunkenness." On our return he talked for awhile of America, and of the numerous sects found there, and then brought out a bottle of Swedish beer, which I enjoyed greatly. When I left, he expressed the hope that we might meet again. " You will be always welcome to the parsonage."
Before my departure T visited several of the farms, and was received everywhere with kindness; question after question was asked of Josefsson about me, and all wondered why I wished to go so far away from my home to indulge in sight-seeing.