I know some people come here rather unprepared. It’s understandable – who has time these days to do research about a place before they go away? – but the first day here can be difficult.
First there’s the clothing. You may not have brought sufficient, or more likely haven’t brought the right kind of clothes. You bring layers (good) but sometimes layers with cotton (bad), you bring boots (good) but boots with warm legs but thin soles (bad), you bring a coat (good) but it’s a waterproof and windproof coat (pretty useless).
There’s the snow – a lot of it – which can look daunting, especially if it’s falling heavily in front of you. Piles of snow spell ice and danger to you, although you’re told it’s cold and powdery and harmless.
There’s the light. Or rather, the absence of it. Darkness signifies sleeping to you – at least after the first few hours of it. The depth of the darkness here in the afternoon feels like the middle of the night. A midday nap is hard to resist, and uses up a lot of the day.
There’s the emptiness of the landscape. There aren’t handy stopping-off points and coffee shops every twenty minutes. You have to plan everything if you go out into it. It can feel inconvenient. If you’re also cold (clothing problem), alarmed by the quantity of snow, and tired (darkness problem), then you can feel tense, irritated, even miserable. These emotions may appear in the first two hours after arriving, or sneak up on you during the first day.
You’ve only got a couple of days so you make a list of all the things you should do tomorrow: go shopping in town for some more thermals, drive out to Abisko, go skiing in Björkliden, have lunch at Riksgränsen, drive back to town, go to the ice hotel, dog sledding in the early evening, then have a meal in town before going out to see the northern lights over a lake somewhere. There’s also the mine tour, the snowmobile experience, reindeer (reindeer sled tour, or ‘Sami experience’?) and you think you should maybe go to the sky station one evening. Is there too much to do – or not enough?
Then there are those tricksy northern lights. You’ve come all this way and paid all this money, but you can’t work out how to see them. Your hosts tell you that ‘northern lights tours’ don’t help. They discourage you from wasting your money on the Abisko sky station, but don’t tell you what to do instead. They can’t tell you when the lights will appear, or the perfect place to view them (apparently it depends whether they appear in the northerly or the southerly sky). Then when you decide just to hope for the best, the sky clouds over so there’s no chance anyway. It’s so disappointing.
Then, at some unspecified time, all this changes. You let go, stop fighting the cold, stop trying to plan everything. The landscape brings a calm smile to your face. The sky sparkles for you. Maybe even the northern lights appear, and then it is impossible to feel sorry for yourself. You take everything in your stride, struggle against nothing, appreciate everything around you, and you feel mellow.
I took a walk a few days ago up onto a hill nearby. It was cold, about minus 25 degrees, and the sky was a deep pink over the snow-covered hills. A man walked towards me.
We smiled at one another. ‘You’re wrapped up warm,’ he said. I felt rather proud of my sensible gear. I looked at his clothing, which was thin. ‘You aren’t though, are you?’ I said. ‘Ah, no,’ he replied, with a twinkle in his eye, ‘my warmth comes from the inside.’
Now that’s mellow. In this kind of cold I feel the need for a warm down coat, so clearly I’ve still a long way to go to get to mellow.