Midsummer day (taken as the Friday nearest the 21st of June) is big in Sweden. People get together, lavish meals are prepared, drinks drunk, photographs taken. You remember what you did last midsummer, and if you don’t, then you remember you drank too many schnapps. A proper midsummer celebration means a long light night, sitting outside, flowers in your hair, herring and schnapps.
Some people emailed us from England wanting to come to Kiruna this year to experience a typical Swedish midsummer celebration. They’d figured that as midsummer was about light nights, going where the night is as light as you can get must give you the most authentic experience.
I had to explain that they’d be better off going somewhere further south, where a bit of darkness increases the magic, and the climate brings something which actually looks like summer. Here it’s early days, the snow hasn’t completely gone, the flowers are mostly still under the earth, and we have so much light that, frankly, it’s hard to celebrate it – it doesn’t ever go away so you don’t really notice it’s there.
A little less light please, and then we could appreciate it.
However, I wanted, if possible, to have some kind of midsummer celebration this weekend. Elsewhere meadows are rich with colour and there’s plenty to choose from, but here there wasn’t a single wildflower to pick and the temperature wasn’t going to let us sit outside in the sunshine for herring and schnapps either.
It was clearly pointless trying to recreate a southern version of midsummer. So instead, we put on some warm clothes and went to the fjäll in search of – well, we weren’t really sure what. But I thought we should aim to adapt to what was on offer, rather than mourn the absence of what wasn’t.
We stopped the car a short distance from Lake Torneträsk and wondered if the land next to it would be dry enough for us to walk on. Fortunately, it was, and before long we came to a huge area of brown and red, dotted with small white flowers. It was a rich area of moss, covered in cloudberry plants which had just produced tiny, fragile white flowers. This was a midsummer meadow, northern style.
These flowers were not for the picking though – if you picked one it fell apart in your hand. We were content to leave them where they were. The moss was resting on waterlogged land but was completely dry to walk on, and it sank under our feet like a luxurious pillow.
Down by the water, trees hugging the edge of the lake had spread their roots out horizontally along the surface, and grown low to be near the warmth and the moisture. They had adapted perfectly to the environment, and now that we had picked our way between them to sit on a rock, so had we.