Looking out the window at the loops and strings of tracks lacing the garden this morning it was easy to identify the run of an arctic hare. Given the number of them, probably two arctic hares. Not only that, given the wild repeating circles, back tracking, and leaping over snow piles, definitely mad March arctic hares.
This time of year, the mating period, arctic hares are active chasing one another, and deciding who to partner and where. They’re marking out territory, and though it looks a bit mad and frantic to us, to the hares it’s just what happens in March.
We’re all experiencing a bit of March madness. There’s a world crisis and in the local newspaper this week it was announced that Kiruna is giving out ‘pyssel’ packets. ‘Pyssel’ is a Swedish term for fiddling around making unnecessary things – in this case, Easter decorations to put in the window. That’s what you need during a world crisis – ‘pyssel’, and plenty of it.
Focus on ‘pyssel’ is a fairly common Kiruna reaction to a crisis. For very many years we’ve had what you might call a bit of a crisis locally, with the mine eating away the ground under our feet. Faced with the prospect of the loss of the whole town a few years ago, local people were encouraged to come up with fanciful ideas for their future, a bit of ‘pyssel’ for the mind. No problem – they imagined a sky lift across the landscape, and a tropical jungle environment underground, and all this no doubt helped a lot. Designs for a new town were called ‘Kiruna 4 Ever!’ with a tone of celebration more suited to a birthday or anniversary party than the wholesale destruction of a town. Hardly a voice was raised in anger or despair.
So people in Kiruna have had lots of practice at facing massive uncertainty and the destruction of everything they know. They are well placed to handle the threat of the current world crisis. They know a ‘pyssel’ packet is just the job.
In Sweden the Public Health Agency is managing all the country’s decisions about the crisis, and so far it has limited itself to telling the over 70s to stay at home and encouraging everyone else to carry on enjoying themselves. You’d think people would spot the flaw in that plan but we haven’t noticed that they have, so far. The threat to the general population of a fast spreading and potential fatal infection is as nothing, it seems, to the average Swede.
Take the Government alcohol shop, for instance. Just yesterday, after reports of rising infection and mortality rates, there was a strong recommendation from the Public Health Agency that people should practice social distancing (at last!). They even suggested that retailers should ensure that customers were able to do this in their shops, and should introduce measures to enable this.
Did we find this new distance in the Government-owned alcohol shop in Kiruna yesterday? We did not. People came up behind you, beside you, towards you, even over the top of you. At the till your bottles flowed freely through and piled up on the other side, everyone’s purchases piling up together. We were reaching over and around and behind one another to collect them, like mad March hares.