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Chapter 9

LIFE IN LAPLAND.


As we drove up to the red two-story house, a short man with dark whiskers and a commercial air came forward to meet us. I accosted him in Swedish, asking him whether the house was an inn. He replied in the negative, adding that the only inn was in Muonioniska, on the Russian side, a mile or more distant. I then asked for the residence of Mr. Wolley, the English naturalist, whose name had been mentioned to me by Prof. Retzius and the botanist Hartman. He thereupon called to some one across the court, and presently appeared a tall, slender man dressed in the universal gray suit which travelling Englishmen wear, from the Equator to the Poles. He came up with extended hand, on hearing his own language; a few words sufficed for explanation, and he devoted himself to our interests with the cordiality of an old acquaintance. He lived with the Swede, Herr Forström, who was the merchant of the place; but the wife of the latter had just been confined, and there was no room in his house. Mr. Wolley proposed at first to send to the inn in Muonioniska, and engage a room, but afterwards arranged with a Norsk carpenter, who lived on the hill above, to give us quarters in his house, so that we might be near enough to take our meals together. Nothing could have suited us better. We took possession at once, and then descended the hill to a dinner--I had ventured to hint at our famished condition--of capercailie, cranberries, soft bread, whipped cream, and a glass of genuine port.

Warmed and comforted by such luxurious fare, we climbed the hill to the carpenter's house, in the dreary Arctic twilight, in the most cheerful and contented frame of mind. Was this, indeed, Lapland? Did we, indeed, stand already in the dark heart of the polar Winter? Yes; there was no doubt of it. The imagination could scarcely conceive a more desolate picture than that upon which we gazed--the plain of sombre snow, beyond which the black huts of the village were faintly discernible, the stunted woods and bleak hills, which night and the raw snow clouds had half obscured, and yonder fur-clad figure gliding silently along beside his reindeer. Yet, even here, where Man seemed to have settled out of pure spite against Nature, were comfort and hospitality and kindness. We entered the carpenter's house, lit our candles and pipes, and sat down to enjoy at ease the unusual feeling of shelter and of home. The building was of squared fir-logs, with black moss stuffed in the crevices, making it very warm and substantial. Our room contained a loom, two tables, two beds with linen of voluptuous softness and cleanness, an iron stove (the first we had seen in Sweden), and the usual washing apparatus, besides a piece of carpet on the floor. What more could any man desire? The carpenter, Herr Knoblock, spoke some German; his son, Ludwig, Mr. Wolley's servant, also looked after our needs; and the daughter, a fair, blooming girl of about nineteen, brought us coffee before we were out of bed, and kept our fire in order. Why, Lapland was a very Sybaris in comparison with what I had expected.

Mr. Wolley proposed to us another luxury, in the shape of a vapour-bath, as Herr Forström had one of those bathing-houses which are universal in Finland. It was a little wooden building without windows. A Finnish servant-girl who had been for some time engaged in getting it in readiness, opened the door for us. The interior was very hot and moist, like an Oriental bathing-hall. In the centre was a pile of hot stones, covered with birch boughs, the leaves of which gave out an agreeable smell, and a large tub of water. The floor was strewn with straw, and under the roof was a platform extending across one end of the building. This was covered with soft hay, and reached by means of a ladder, for the purpose of getting the full effect of the steam. Some stools, and a bench for our clothes, completed the arrangements. There was also in one corner a pitcher of water, standing in a little heap of snow to keep it cool.

The servant-girl came in after us, and Mr. W. quietly proceeded to undress, informing us that the girl was bathing-master, and would do the usual scrubbing and shampooing. This, it seems, is the general practice in Finland, and is but another example of the unembarrassed habits of the people in this part of the world. The poorer families go into their bathing-rooms together--father, mother, and children--and take turns in polishing each other's backs. It would have been ridiculous to have shown any hesitation under the circumstances--in fact, an indignity to the honest simple-hearted, virtuous girl--and so we deliberately undressed also. When at last we stood, like our first parents in Paradise, "naked and not ashamed," she handed us bunches of birch-twigs with the leaves on, the use of which was suggested by the leaf of sculpture. We mounted to the platform and lay down upon our backs, whereupon she increased the temperature by throwing water upon the hot stones, until the heat was rather oppressive, and we began to sweat profusely. She then took up a bunch of birch-twigs which had been dipped in hot water, and switched us smartly from head to foot. When we had become thoroughly parboiled and lax, we descended to the floor, seated ourselves upon the stools, and were scrubbed with soap as thoroughly as propriety permitted. The girl was an admirable bather, the result of long practice in the business. She finished by pouring hot water over us, and then drying us with warm towels. The Finns frequently go out and roll in the snow during the progress of the bath. I ventured so far as to go out and stand a few seconds in the open air. The mercury was at zero, and the effect of the cold on my heated skin was delightfully refreshing.

I dressed in a violent perspiration, and then ran across to Herr Forström's house, where tea was already waiting for us. Here we found the länsman or magistrate of the Russian district opposite, a Herr Bràxen, who was decorated with the order of Stanislaus for his services in Finland during the recent war. He was a tall, dark-haired man, with a restless light in his deep-set eyes, and a gentleman in his demeanor. He entered into our plans with interest, and the evening was spent in consultation concerning them. Finally, it was decided that Herr Forström should send a messenger up the river to Palajoki (forty miles off), to engage Lapps and reindeer to take us across the mountains to Kautokeino, in Norway. As the messenger would be absent three or four days, we had a comfortable prospect of rest before us, and I went to bed with a light heart, to wake to the sixth birthday I have passed in strange lands.

In the morning, I went with Mr. Wolley to call upon a Finn, one of whose children was suffering from inflamed eyes, or snowthalmia, as it might be called. The family were prolific, as usual--children of all sizes, with a regular gradation of a year between. The father, a short, shock-headed fellow, sat in one corner; the mother, who, like nine-tenths of all the matrons we had seen between Lapland and Stockholm, gave promise of additional humanity, greeted us with a comical, dipping courtesy--a sudden relaxing and stiffening again of the muscles of the knees--which might be introduced as a novelty into our fashionable circles. The boy's eyes were terribly blood-shot, and the lids swollen, but a solution of nitrate of silver, which Mr. W. applied, relieved him greatly in the course of a day or two. We took occasion to visit the stable, where half a dozen cows lay in darkness, in their warm stalls, on one side, with two bulls and some sheep on the other. There was a fire in one corner, over which hung a great kettle filled with a mixture of boiled hay and reindeer moss. Upon this they are fed, while the sheep must content themselves with bunches of birch, willow and aspen twigs, gathered with the leaves on. The hay is strong and coarse, but nourishing, and the reindeer moss, a delicate white lichen, contains a glutinous ingredient, which probably increases the secretion of milk. The stable, as well as Forström's, which we afterwards inspected, was kept in good order. It was floored, with a gutter past each row of stalls, to carry off the manure. The cows were handsome white animals, in very good condition.

Mr. Wolley sent for his reindeer in the course of the morning, in order to give us a lesson in driving. After lunch, accordingly, we prepared ourselves for the new sensation. I put on a poesk of reindeer skin, and my fur-lined Russian boots. Ludwig took a pulk also, to assist us in case of need. These pulks are shaped very much like a canoe; they are about five feet long, one foot deep, and eighteen inches wide, with a sharp bow and a square stern. You sit upright against the stern-board, with your legs stretched out in the bottom. The deer's harness consists only of a collar of reindeer skin around the neck, with a rope at the bottom, which passes under the belly, between the legs, and is fastened to the bow of the pulk. He is driven by a single rein, attached to the base of the left horn, and passing over the back to the right hand of the driver, who thrusts his thumb into a loop at the end, and takes several turns around his wrist. The rein is held rather slack, in order that it may be thrown over to the right side when it slips to the left, which it is very apt to do.

I seated myself, took proper hold of the rein, and awaited the signal to start. My deer was a strong, swift animal, who had just shed his horns. Ludwig set off first; my deer gave a startling leap, dashed around the corner of the house, and made down the hill. I tried to catch the breath which had been jerked out of me, and to keep my balance, as the pulk, swaying from side to side, bounced over the snow. It was too late; a swift presentiment of the catastrophe flashed across my mind, but I was powerless to avert it. In another second I found myself rolling in the loose snow, with the pulk bottom upward beside me. The deer, who was attached to my arm, was standing still, facing me, with an expression of stupid surprise (but no sympathy) on his face. I got up, shook myself, righted the pulk, and commenced again. Off we went, like the wind, down the hill, the snow flying in my face and blinding me. My pulk made tremendous leaps, bounding from side to side, until, the whirlwind suddenly subsiding, I found myself off the road, deep overhead in the snow, choked and blinded, and with small snow-drifts in my pockets, sleeves and bosom. My beard and eyebrows became instantly a white, solid mass, and my face began to tingle from its snow-bath; but, on looking back, I saw as white a beard suddenly emerge from a drift, followed by the stout body of Braisted, who was gathering himself up after his third shipwreck.

We took a fresh start, I narrowly missing another overturn, as we descended the slope below the house, but on reaching the level of the Muonio, I found no difficulty in keeping my balance, and began to enjoy the exercise. My deer struck out, passed the others, and soon I was alone on the track. In the grey Arctic twilight, gliding noiselessly and swiftly over the snow, with the low huts of Muonioniska dimly seen in the distance before me, I had my first true experience of Lapland travelling. It was delightfully novel and exhilarating; I thought of "Afraja," and the song of "Kulnasatz, my reindeer!" and Bryant's "Arctic Lover," and whatever else there is of Polar poetry, urged my deer with shouts, and never once looked behind me until I had climbed the opposite shore and reached the village. My companions were then nowhere to be seen. I waited some time before they arrived, Braisted's deer having become fractious and run back with him to the house. His crimson face shone out from its white frame of icy hair as he shouted to me, "There is nothing equal to this, except riding behind a right whale when he drives to windward, with every man trimming the boat, and the spray flying over your bows!"

We now turned northward through the village, flying around many sharp corners, but this I found comparatively easy work. But for the snow I had taken in, which now began to melt, I got on finely in spite of the falling flakes, which beat in our faces. Von Buch, in his journey through Lapland in 1807, speaks of Muonioniska as "a village with an inn where they have silver spoons." We stopped at a house which Mr. Wolley stated was the very building, but it proved to be a more recent structure on the site of the old inn. The people looked at us with curiosity on hearing we were Americans. They had heard the name of America, but did not seem to know exactly where it was. On leaving the house, we had to descend the steep bank of the river. I put out my feet to steady the pulk, and thereby ploughed a cataract of fine snow into my face, completely blinding me. The pulk gave a flying leap from the steepest pitch, flung me out, and the deer, eager to make for home, dragged me by the arm for about twenty yards before I could arrest him. This was the worst upset of all, and far from pleasant, although the temperature was only zero. I reached home again without further mishap, flushed, excited, soaked with melted snow, and confident of my ability to drive reindeer with a little more practice.

During the first three days, the weather was raw, dark, and lowering, with a temperature varying from 9° above to 13° below zero. On the morning of the 14th, however, the sky finally cleared, with a cold south wind, and we saw, for the first time, the range of snowy mountains in the east. The view from our hill, before so dismally bleak and dark, became broad and beautiful, now that there was a little light to see it by. Beyond the snowy floor of the lake and the river Muonio stretched the scattering huts of Muonioniska, with the church overlooking them, and the round, white peak of Ollastyntre rising above his belt of black woods to the south. Further to the east extended alternate streaks of dark forest and frozen marsh for eighteen miles, to the foot of the mountain range of Palastyntre, which stood like a line of colossal snow-drifts against the soft violet sky, their sides touched by the rosily-golden beams of the invisible sun. This and the valley of the Torneå, at Avasaxa, are two of the finest views in Lapland.

I employed part of my time in making some sketches of characteristic faces. Mr. Wolley, finding that I wished to procure good types of the Finns and Lapps, kindly assisted me--his residence of three years in Muoniovara enabling him to know who were the most marked and peculiar personages. Ludwig was despatched to procure an old fellow by the name of Niemi, a Finn, who promised to comply with my wishes; but his ignorance made him suspicious, and it was necessary to send again. "I know what travellers are," said he, "and what a habit they have of getting people's skulls to carry home with them. Even if they are arrested for it, they are so rich, they always buy over the judges. Who knows but they might try to kill me for the sake of my skull?" After much persuasion, he was finally induced to come, and, seeing that Ludwig supposed he was still afraid, he said, with great energy: "I have made up my mind to go, even if a shower of knives should fall from heaven!" He was seventy-three years old, though he did not appear to be over sixty--his hair being thick and black, his frame erect and sturdy, and his colour crimson rather than pale. His eyebrows were jet-black and bushy, his eyes large and deep set, his nose strong and prominent, and the corners of his long mouth drawn down in a settled curve, expressing a melancholy grimness. The high cheek-bones, square brow, and muscular jaw belonged to the true Finnish type. He held perfectly still while I drew, scarcely moving a muscle of his face, and I succeeded in getting a portrait which everybody recognised.

I gave him a piece of money, with which he was greatly delighted; and, after a cup of coffee, in Herr Knoblock's kitchen, he went home quite proud and satisfied. "They do not at all look like dangerous persons," said he to the carpenter; "perhaps they do not collect skulls. I wish they spoke our language, that I might ask them how people live in their country. America is a very large, wild place. I know all about it, and the discovery of it. I was not there myself at the time, but Jenis Lampi, who lives in Kittila, was one of the crew of the ship, and he told me how it happened. Jenis Lampi said they were going to throw the captain overboard, but he persuaded them to give him three days, and on the third day they found it. Now I should like to know whether these people, who come from that country, have laws as we have, and whether they live as comfortably." So saying, Isaaki Anderinpoika Niemi departed.

No sooner had he gone than the old Lapp woman, Elsa, who had been sent for, drove up in her pulk, behind a fast reindeer. She was in complete Lapp costume--a blue cloth gown with wide sleeves, trimmed with scarlet, and a curious pear-shaped cap of the same material, upon her head. She sat upon the floor, on a deerskin, and employed herself in twisting reindeer sinews, which she rolled upon her cheek with the palm of her hand, while I was sketching her. It was already dark, and I was obliged to work by candle light, but I succeeded in catching the half-insane, witch-like expression of her face. When I took the candle to examine her features more closely, she cried out, "Look at me, O son of man!" She said that I had great powers, and was capable of doing everything, since I had come so far, and could make an image of her upon paper. She asked whether we were married, saying we could hardly travel so much if we were; yet she thought it much better to be married and stay at home. I gave her a rigsdaler, which she took with joyful surprise, saying, "What! am I to get my coffee and tobacco, and be paid too? Thanks, O son of man, for your great goodness!" She chuckled very much over the drawing, saying that the dress was exactly right.

In the afternoon we took another reindeer drive to Muonioniska, paying a visit to Pastor Fali, the clergyman whom we had met at Forström's. This time I succeeded very well, making the trip without a single overturn, though with several mishaps. Mr. Wolley lost the way, and we drove about at random for some time. My deer became restive, and whirled me around in the snow, filling my pulk. It was so dark that we could scarcely see, and, without knowing the ground, one could not tell where the ups and down were. The pastor received us courteously, treated us to coffee and pipes, and conversed with us for some time. He had not, as he said, a Swedish tongue, and I found it difficult to understand him. On our way back, Braisted's and Ludwig's deers ran together with mine, and, while going at full speed, B.'s jumped into my pulk. I tried in vain either to stop or drive on faster; he trampled me so violently that I was obliged to throw myself out to escape his hoofs. Fortunately the animals are not heavy enough to do any serious harm. We reached Forström's in season for a dinner of fat reindeer steak, cranberries, and a confect of the Arctic raspberry.

After an absence of three days Salomon, the messenger who had been sent up the river to engage reindeer for us, returned, having gone sixty miles before he could procure them. He engaged seven, which arrived the next evening, in the charge of a tall, handsome Finn, who was to be our conductor. We had, in the meantime, supplied ourselves with reindeer poesks, such as the Lapps wear,--our own furs being impracticable for pulk travelling--reindeer mittens, and boas of squirrel tails strung on reindeer sinews. The carpenter's second son, Anton, a lad of fifteen, was engaged to accompany us as an interpreter.


Bayard Taylor