The arctic hare changes from brown to pure white in the winter. Hares are all over the place in Kiruna, but it’s hard to see them. Their pure white fur makes them almost invisible in the snow, but we know they’re there from all the tracks. They’re feasting on what’s in the freezer: fallen frozen rowan berries, yum yum, frozen dried birch leaves just ready to pick, mm crunchy, and frozen hops looping around our verandah, whoopee! The hare has no predators in town, food is readily available, life is good.
We’re all a bit hidden at this time of year. We live on a hill and with the heavy snowfall we’ve had the road next to us has disappeared from view – or rather, we’ve disappeared from view. People walking up and down have become hats. Hats moving steadily, fast and smoothly (bike, or kicksled). Hats bobbing up and down (runners). Hats moving side to side (walking and talking on your phone). I recognise neighbours from their hats. The white bobbly, the orange knitted, the black ski hoodie.
Cars are neither seen nor heard, unless they have something added to the roof, like lights or roof boxes. Lorries are more visible, and snow plows. Peering up from below the brow of the snow hill it feels like we’re in a snow cave.
The snow has hidden the trees too. Quite beautifully. Every twig covered, so they are a mass of giant white fingers. The snow mist has frozen layer after layer onto them, pulling every branch down with the weight.
Opposite our house is an area of birch trees on a small hill. Currently a very high snowy hill. The birch trees are typically misshapen but tough. They call them ‘saxophone birch’ here because they’re so bendy and short. They’re hardy, but now and again nature comes at them too hard and they give in. Strong wind, heavy snow, and eventually they’ll break.
There’s one birch just opposite our living room that has been at an angle of 30 degrees for a couple of years now. Some trees either side of it were broken a couple of years ago, but this one has hung on. When the heavy snow clings to it, the angle of leaning becomes more like 20 degrees. It looks stunning, the low tree heavy with snow, but for the last two winters there always come a point where my appreciation of the beauty is overtaken by my fear of the trunk breaking.
I know this tree will, eventually, fall, but I want to help it live for as long as it can. When no-one is looking, I go out onto the street with a broom and push some of the snow off it’s downward curving branches. Snow showers all over me like cherry blossom. The tree bounces back to 30 degrees.
As someone approaches along the street I sneak back inside with my broom, but I fear I have been seen.
The tree is no longer hidden, and neither am I. Someone who uses up energy to go and brush a saxophone birch? My cover is blown: I’m clearly not a local.