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.