May is the month of the great melt, usually accompanied by low hanging cloud, mist and fog, shrouding everything in a damp dull light. The snow isn’t quite gone, but the huge piles have shrunk, leaving small hills of white spread out on vast areas of yellow and beige grass.
The arctic hares (there are four, it seems, now resident in our garden) mirror this perfectly. Their bodies are now a pale beige, with small patches of white in their long ears, so when they curl themselves into a ball they look just like a small hill with remnants of snow on top. Our neighbour tells us that while we have been away they (the hares, not the neighbours) have been sitting in our flower beds, chewing. I try not to think about it. Such beautiful creatures – how can one mind them putting a few spring flowers in their diet after a long hard winter of frozen hay?
Seeds underground are feeling the power of hours of daylight and are pushing shoots to the surface. Sparrows have emerged to devour the fat ball we put outside in the winter (then too frozen for them to eat). Dogs in the street look frisky. They can smell the promise of long light days in the fjäll, hunting arctic grouse and sunning themselves on a warm rock.
And yet all around us is a desolate scene. Kiruna emerging from the snow is a very ugly duckling indeed. It is not a pretty sight, and rather than make the best of it, Kiruna seems hell bent on the opposite.
Piles of rubbish strewn in every direction. Discarded cans, bottles, bits of metal, paper, broken tools, old furniture, old advertising signs, flags, broken road cones. The roads are awash with grit (put down during this very warm winter, when melting and freezing brought more ice to the roads than usual) and any remaining snow is pitted with grey. Those houses that looked so charming in the winter, nestling in a vale of white snow, are now revealed to be houses with the paint peeling off and gutters at an angle, surrounded by six different kinds of vehicles which may not be fit to drive. The vehicles are mimicked in plastic versions for the children, piled up around the trampolines standing untidily in the drab grey yards.
Even at the local supermarket the theme continues. Cardboard boxes piling up inside and out, glass doors grey with dust. All the cars in the car park need a good wash but no-one bothers; there’s too much dirt around – no point. Who cares? No-one’s looking – the winter visitors have gone, the summer visitors haven’t arrived. Kiruna is having its ugly period.
I’ve just been outside picking up rubbish visible from the house. Scanning the earth piles I found mostly sweet paper wrappers, blown under the snow, trapped there for months probably. Old bottles long ago thrown purposefully over our garden fence by Saturday night revellers, neatly disappearing into our snow piles. Scatterings of cigarette ends, discarded by our b and b guests – at the time they would have been covered in pure white in seconds. Now all is revealed, dirty and dusty after their winter hibernation.
I walked back to the house like a contestant on ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’, proudly clutching one large bag of rubbish, and another bag of plastic Christmas stars. But the stars won’t win me any favours because I am way way ahead of the season. This season – of not bothering to clear anything up – lasts at least another week.
Then, one day, next week maybe, or perhaps the week after, the grass will turn green, flowers will become visible in odd places, in clumps of pink and purple, and there will be school children out in the streets, in organised groups, picking up all the litter. That will be the sign – that’s when Kiruna will begin to clear up its backyard. Rubbish and rusting equipment will be driven to the dump, vehicles will be assigned to scrap and others taken out to the summer house, summer pots will come out, newly planted with bulbs, and the front and back yards will be tidied and filled with barbecues and garden furniture. On the streets machines will remove all the left over grit and wash the streets clean, grass will be cut and flowerbeds prepared. The season of ugliness will be over for another year.