Temperatures are fluctuating wildly, and the snowy environment turns from friendly snow pillow to vicious ice rink at a moment’s notice. I’m trying not to complain, not to resist, though I don’t like it.
There are a few benefits. The arctic hare in the garden is having a feast in the driveway – she’s found precious summer grasses poking up through the snow and ice. The street is shining, the shade of Snow White’s dress, a glassy glare of blue-white. Collections of snow around the house are taking on a new appearance; in a part of the world where it’s usually too cold to make a snowman, the temperature is smoothing out animal faces in the snow.
Outside the house our attention has been drawn in the evenings to a round white animal figure with eyes, ears and a long protruding nose. In the morning, when there’s some twilight, the figure is almost gone – at least it is just a small pile of snow. The dark and light contrasts play tricks so it’s common to imagine you see things in the snow. You look and look, not sure if you see what you think you see, wanting to see it. You know it’s not real, but, like Father Christmas, you want to believe in it.
Before the ice arrived – and the town became this season’s show, ‘Kiruna – Dancing on Ice, a Christmas Special’ – I did my usual run out to the mine offices. It’s a good path with good views in both directions. The view on the way out is of the mine, or at least, what you can see of the mine. It’s what remains of the mountain, after the early days of surface mining, and this area is always lit up, so it looks like a cruise ship has come to town. At Christmas the company decorates a Christmas tree shape on the top, and last year they spelled out ‘God Jul’ (‘Happy Christmas’) by lighting up certain windows in the tower of offices.
As I ran towards it this year I was looking out for the Christmas message. You can only see it a bit closer and at certain angles. There was the tree, and the usual lights, but I couldn’t see the message. Then I saw, ’21’. It made no sense so I tried to imagine it actually said something else, but however hard I looked, it still said ’21’.
Somebody’s birthday? A new door code? The current price of iron ore in Venezuelan Bolívar?
Or could it be a countdown to Christmas? It should have said ’23’ then, but perhaps it was counting down to the start of most workers’ holiday. It had to be, and it was a great thought that unlike last year’s message, this year’s message would require complicated arrangements to leave different office window lights on every night. I imagined some bored office worker having worked out a program for it, and offices left instructions for every night of December – or perhaps there was a programmed timer to leave the right lights on.
It cheered me up actually. A silly thing, but its pointlessness was its charm. Only a company as rich as the mine could be bothered with it.
The only doubt left was what hour of the day they did the changeover, and whether they were counting down to the day before Christmas Eve or to the Eve itself. Well when you’re running your mind focuses on some funny things.
A couple of weeks later as I ran closer to the mine I was trying to work out what number I should be looking for. It all depended whether they changed the number at the end of the day’s shift, or maybe at midnight. It could have been a ‘7’, an ‘8’, or even a ‘9’. I couldn’t make it out. It wasn’t a very good number whichever one it was – not very clear. I thought it might be an ‘8’ because of the curvy shape at the bottom, though the top wasn’t curvy at all.
Looking over my shoulder running back I reckoned it was going to be an ‘8’. Soon the people in the top offices would turn their lights on or off and make the rest of the figure. I’d decided – it was an ‘8’. Definitely.