Most days are clear and sunny. The prevailing wind direction brings cloud in from Norway and leaves it hanging over the mountains to the west, discharging yet more layers of snow over the peaks. The cloud rarely reaches Kiruna, so days are not only light but sparkling, since there’s no softening layer of humidity to dull down the sun’s rays. The sunlight is what Swedes would call ‘strålande’ – streaming light that is impossible to ignore. The impact is physical as well as psychological – the longer days of bright light are quite exhausting after the months of darkness.
When I poke my head out the door in the morning I can hear a variety of birdsong. The temperature is still mostly below freezing, and can dip down to the minus 20s, but can also come up above freezing in the daytime. Only the very top layers of snow are melting – the piles are massive, especially this winter when the snow arrived in large quantities in November. A photograph would show no sign of spring to someone from more southern countries – there is no green visible.
Although the deep snow may become a little unreliable soon, it’s still ‘good to go’. The ice is thick on the lakes and reliable for many weeks yet. The Ice Hotel has just closed for business, but for the last two weeks you could have stayed in its ice rooms for a fraction of the price it charges the rest of the winter season.
It’s the peak season for walking on the lakes, enjoying the sunshine, doing a bit of ice fishing. This weekend hundreds of keen ice fishers took part in the annual competition to catch the biggest fish. This sport requires them to sit, or preferably lie (on a warm reindeer skin), on the ice, and wait for a fish to bite. It’s peaceful, like cricket in the summer.
As we walk out onto the lake I’m hit by vivid memories of going to the beach on holiday in England. Rolf is carrying what passes as ‘deckchairs’ – small foldeable canvas chairs to keep us off the ice – while I carry a large bag with lunch, suntan cream, bottles of squash and a thermos of coffee. We’re in search of the perfect spot – out of the wind but in the sun. Sometimes our determined pace is slowed by having to wade over sand dunes – well no, snow dunes of course – and sometimes our eyes are drawn to patterns in the water created by its movement against the rocks, in this case frozen patterns. In the distance we see other determined figures on the beach, also in search of that elusive perfect spot. There are family groups, probably arguing over who forgot to pack the sandwiches, but blissfully at this distance we can’t hear them. This beach is big enough to accommodate whoever comes on to it, and it’s always easy to head away from ‘the crowds’. Snowscooters pass, also in the distance, like boats passing by, only noisier. When they have gone we’re returned to the silence, as we stretch back on our chairs squinting into the sun.
It’s light, lighter every day than further south, and the flat earth top lengthens the twilight hours. For aurora watchers the bad news is that it’s only dark for three or four hours. The good news is that the aurora is generally more active in the autumn and in the spring, so your chances of seeing it are higher in those few hours that are available. We drove the car out to Abisko one night last week. The ‘fjäll’ region looks different in the dark, and we were lucky that night the sky was completely clear and I have never seen so many stars – the milky way almost lit up the night. We were parked where we could see the ‘Aurora Sky Station’ on Nuolla, the hill behind the village. The Sky Station is shut now – it closed at the end of March – but the aurora were clear to see from where we were standing, flashing over the whole sky and over the Sky Station’s darkened ski lift.
The end of March and the first half of April really is the best time of year and we never like to miss it. So it’s peak season, right? Well no actually. In fact there are very few visitors here. I guess we have to market it a bit better in future. Or maybe we just keep it to ourselves.