Yesterday we walked out onto the lake known as Torneträsk for the first time this year. The air was captivating, the sun shining, the sky a clear blue, the mountains all around us. The ice spread ahead of us in swirling patterns and peaks as we walked out to a group of rocks we call ‘the island’.
‘It’s just like a good bandy match,’ said Rolf. (Bandy is a national obsession – it’s like ice hockey only has many more players and is played on a football-sized pitch, involving skating longer distances at speed). ‘Aha,’ I replied, knowing better than to ask any question about bandy for fear of hearing the equivalent of the off-side rule in reply.
One of the great pleasures of the seasons known as ‘springwinter’ is spending time out on the frozen lakes. The ice is strong enough to support you long before March, but only in March is the sun high enough in the sky that you’re able to savour the experience, taking your time strolling along, or even have a picnic on the lake.
Of course you have to forget all ideas of rolled-up trousers and gingham table cloths. I suppose this is a kind of ‘extreme’ picnicking experience. But it doesn’t require any particular hardiness, only a decent coat and boots, and a willingness to perch on a bit of foam on an icy rock. The only skill involved is working out how long you can take your gloves off to eat before your fingers start to freeze. Tight fitting clean gloves are the solution, with an outer larger glove to warm up the hand every five minutes. But if this sounds just all too difficult, read on.
This year we got out onto the lake earlier than usual. We’d heard warnings about the ice having been covered in too thick a layer of snow early in the winter, so not forming the ice layer as thickly as usual – although our neighbours had assured us that Torneträsk would not have the same problem because being deeper it freezes later in the winter. However, we were cautious. Walking rather tentatively out onto the lake, we came across the remains of burnt wood. The picture it conjured up of someone lighting a fire on the ice was enough to reassure us.
The ice had a thin layer of driven snow on its surface, and the wind blows it into patterns and peaks. Looked at from certain angles it could have been a huge desert we were looking at, only with a blue tinge. Sometimes the wind had blown the snow into circles, sometimes into mini-mountains, sometimes it had spread it out thinly like the sand when the tide draws out. The snow crunch was clean and crisp, and occasionally our boots hit a part which reverberated – as if the ice below was an empty cavern. That would be because it is – best not to think too much about that one, and keep walking.
We reached the rocks, got out the foam seat, and spread our picnic out on the snow. Among the distant mountains it was easy to see the settlement of Abisko which looked like a toy town, with the railway trundling through it carrying iron ore in open trucks. Some people in the distance were going to fish, and with a hand drill began to make a hole in the ice. Watching how long the man was turning the drill, and how low he bent down before he stopped, we estimated the ice thickness to be a metre and a half.
Elsewhere someone had towed their ‘ark’ onto the ice (an ‘ark’ is a small hut that you can sit in protected from the wind, with a trapdoor to a hole in the ice in the middle.) It was early for the ‘ark’ season – most of them were still parked on the lake’s shores, but in a week’s time they would be spread out over the lake peppering its surface with different colours and shapes.
A snow scooter spun by, towing a sled with a child and some belongings. The sun was on our faces, but my heavily socked and booted feet were beginning to chill in the shade, sitting in a snow hollow. We guessed the temperature – probably minus 14. As the snow scooter went by Rolf said, ‘- and with the chill factor on that, minus 35’. We were glad to be staying put on an icy rock.
Reluctantly we packed up our things and began the walk back. The 360 degree panorama of the snow-covered mountains around us made me spin on my heel, trying to take it all in. I felt the deep calm of being in a magnificent natural environment.
I felt maybe I could cope now, with the off-side rule. I asked Rolf what he meant, about this scene being like a good bandy match. ‘It’s the scale of the beauty,’ he replied, ‘you just can’t capture it on film’.