Driving back into Kiruna from an afternoon out in the fjäll we watched as vivid orange and red spread along the horizon, edging out towards the distant humped shape of the mine. On the other side, a bright white full moon was balanced on the edge of the pepper white landscape, looking as if it might topple over and roll off into the hills.
As the local paper expressed it this week, ‘At last! Minus degrees!’
The landscape and town is snow-covered, and no icy grey patches are there to spoil the impression of pure white. More importantly, we can walk out without falling over. Last week’s ice is still underneath, but the layer of snow on top is now sufficient to give your boots some grip.
This means that a short walk up into the fjäll was possible again, having been off limit for the last few weeks, unless you’d wanted to negotiate most of the path on your backside (easier going down).
The last time we walked this way was autumn, with brown, orange and red scrub at our feet and bright low sunshine. It was quicker to walk then than now. This time the snow requires some careful placing of the feet, and it is no longer always clear where the path is. We think we know the path well, but there are frequent stops to discuss which is the right way.
Our clumsy wide boots disturb the smooth effect of the snow. Smooth, that is, apart from where animals or birds have left their traces.
‘Possibly a ski-pole?’ I suggest, seeing a large swirling mark in the snow, ending in a sharp dot. ‘Without a ski-er?’ Mmm, unless the skier had taken off and flown down the hill.
We continue trudging up the hill. Never a noisy place, this, but once the snow has fallen the hush seems heavier. We pick our way between the snow covered birch scrub, as carefully as we can in heavy boots. Looking behind us we have left clear tracks wriggling right to left having often veered off track before finding the path again.
The view out over Lake Torneträsk and the mountains beyond is more beautiful than ever. I have the feeling that when the snow settles, nature pulls a protective cape over the landscape for the winter and gathers it back to herself. No longer open for people to rampage about on her slopes and valleys, no longer free for people to pick berries or hunt birds, no longer open for exploration by campers and long distance walkers.
So we feel especially privileged to be allowed in today. As if we’ve sneaked in the back door after all the visitors have left for the day and there’s no longer an entrance fee. Or have pulled open the curtain backstage and peered in at the actors removing their make up and pulling off their clown costumes. It’s peaceful, unshowy, wrapped up and hidden.
Coming up here makes one breath deeper, more calmly. Not a place to linger though, at minus 13 degrees with a wind, so we begin our descent. This time we use a different technique, walking diagonally to avoid slipping, stepping either side of our previous tracks to ensure we are walking into fresh snow, better for the grip.
Our tracks have made a mess of the smooth snow paths, but it’s reassuring to see them there. Unlike a walk in town where you’re one of a crowd, your presence unnoticed or soon forgotten, here in the fjäll, in the winter time, there are traces of us left behind. Perhaps a fox will come across them, and wonder what or who was here.