We live at the end of the world. Some 17th century graffiti in Jukkasjärvi church says so, and for travellers coming from mainland Europe it must have felt like that.
Some strange ideas are still floating around today. Many of them are connected with the northern lights, as many of our visitors remind us. One guest walked for two hours in minus 20 degrees because a friend had seen them at a particular spot out of town so she thought that was where she was most likely to see them.
The same belief is displayed in a question we’re repeatedly asked – ‘where should we go to see the northern lights?’ My usual reply, ‘in our garden’, is instantly dismissed. ‘So,’ they say, ‘where would be a good place to see them?’
If you’re running a tourist company in town you’ll tell them that the best place to see them is in your own very special place out of town, and one of your tours will take them there. If you are the local tourist organisation (privately owned and run) you will tell them they have to go to Abisko, where they can pay to go up the mountain to the ‘Aurora Sky Station’.
No-one, it seems – except us – will tell you, ‘in the sky, where it’s a bit dark’.
Strange ideas begin with the visitor’s (often false) preconceptions and can be confirmed by the business of tourism and the need to give people clear answers, even if that means they’re false ones.
Take the ‘Arctic Circle’, for instance. Leaving aside the fact that most people couldn’t mark it anywhere near accurately on a map – it must be below Iceland they reason (it isn’t) – when people come to Kiruna they’ve usually at least understood that we’re above it. They believe in it as fact – but like Father Christmas and the flat earth, it isn’t that simple.
A comic musical in town last week focussed on this issue. A village was in disagreement with the local council who wanted to move their sign, ‘The Arctic Circle’, further up the road where more money could be made in the nearby facilities. The audience laughed, but knowingly. Because they knew that the ‘Arctic Circle’ doesn’t really exist.
You did know (didn’t you?) that the line that is ‘the circle’ is a representation of the southern most point you can see the midnight sun, or experience polar night. That means that ‘on the line’ this happens for just one day a year, and the further you go north of it, the more days of midnight sun and polar night you have. But, you say, yes yes, but you can mark it on a map in that case, so it sort of exists.
Well, no, actually. Did you know (I didn’t, I confess, until yesterday) that due to the gravitational pull from the planets this ‘line’ is moving north 15 metres every year? That means that every year the ‘Arctic Circle’ is in a different place.
But don’t worry, if you want to hold on to the map you have it’ll be right again in 10,000 years’ time when the ‘Arctic Circle’ has started to move back south again.