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Letters from 68 degrees, Kiruna

Blog at 68 degrees

What's happening here at 68 degrees, a bed and breakfast in Kiruna.

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Whoopers and light

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Sun, April 17, 2022 22:37:48

Whooper swans gather on the small patches of water that have opened up on the Kalix river. They arrive, in pairs, in a whoosh of water and raucous whooping. On the water, group dynamics are visible. Some pairs on the ice are alternately lifting their heads up and down and flapping their wings. They’re preparing to set up home somewhere a bit more private as soon as more water appears. As the day is warm, and the snow and ice is melting fast, they won’t have to wait long.

After tramping on the ice along the river edge for a short while we see a snow-free patch on a small hillock under a tree. There are soft lingon plants to sit on, and if you’re lucky you find a remaining lingonberry, still tasty and sweet after months under the snow. We’ve plenty of layers on because the wind is still cold, and sitting on snow, or near it, isn’t like a sand beach, but the sun is warm enough to encourage us to remove one layer. And the gloves.

It’s calming to sit there and watch the swans. Nothing much happens, but you think about the swans’ long journey here, and the coming summer months with their cygnets. The sky is a wide fan of thin white cloud shooting up from behind the snow+covered fjäll. The light is so bright it hurts the eyes if you remove your sunglasses. Reflection from the water and snow is a sharp sort of sensation, hitting your senses like a shard of ice. It can make you feel very tired. ‘Spring tiredness’ they call it.

Eventually we climb back down through the packed snow and start to walk back. Just above us there are a couple of small wooden huts and as we pass one a man emerges with just a towel wrapped around his waist. We know it’s warm but not that warm. It takes a few seconds for us to realise he’s just come out of his sauna. He’s sitting on a bench with a can of beer in his hand, looking out over the river, the swans and the sky. ‘Things could be much worse,’ he calls out to us as we pass.

Don’t miss the real thing

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Sun, April 17, 2022 22:30:29

Driving along the road near the Kalix river you pass a few ‘moose warning’ signs. It has been explained to me that these are more like ‘animal crossing’ signs than specific ‘moose’ ones, and we note that if you see moose it’s hardly ever anywhere near one of these signs. However the signs do provide some local colour for tourists, and apparently have value as a souvenir. They are known to disappear.

There are a number of favourite places we stop along this road and we pass a couple of them, with a plan to get out on the ice at a wide part of the river where there’s a good view of the fjäll. On our return journey we pull in to a small parking area by a hut that’s provided for the public. It’s a place we have spent a lot of time, but today we just pulled over to check something, and were just driving off again when a car slowed down as it drove by us and a man wound his window down. I did likewise. ‘It’s a great place here to spend some time,’ he told us, helpfully. We thanked him for the information and agreed that it was, we knew. He was clearly a visitor, on his own, who’d just chanced on a good spot to see the river and wanted to share his good fortune with someone else. It gave me a nice warm feeling, that someone should be so thoughtful. He drove off ahead of us at great speed.

As we carried on down the road I spotted moose among the trees by the roadside. I never tire of watching these beautiful creatures. They stare at you with their big brown nuzzly heads before eventually turning tail to chew on a bit more birch. After we’d admired them for a while we drove on, and on the road ahead we saw the man from earlier, out of his car, taking a picture of the ‘moose warning’ sign. I understand the appeal of the prospect of a photo of the sign, but given the speed he drove off earlier I was wondering if he’d missed seeing the actual moose.

So we stopped and wound down the window. ‘Did you see the moose?’ I asked. He looked surprised. ‘Just back there, on the left’. He thanked us and immediately got in his car and drove back. Perhaps a visitor that sees a real moose won’t need a sign, or a photograph of a sign, as a souvenir. They’ll go home with a real memory, and I think he deserved that.