Short on time and confidence, visitors are keen to sign up for tours. They promise unforgettable experiences usually involving northern lights, husky dogs, or snow scooters. But if you live here you know that the environment offers unforgettable experiences with very little effort, and with no need of special equipment or machinery.
We went to the Kalix river, a short drive away from Kiruna. We wore boots for the slushy conditions and brought with us a children’s plastic sled. On the sled we tied two small fold-up chairs, a thermos and some lunch, attaching a piece of string so we could pull it behind us. We walked five minutes on the ice at the edge of the river to a spot where we could see an area of open water on one side, and then we climbed up on to a small group of rocks on the other side, to set up our chairs. We looked down on the blue water and ice, ahead at the snow-covered mountains and above at a pale sky with wispy trailing white cloud.
Migrating birds stop to regroup here. Most noticeable are the whooper swans, but several other species of duck and diving bird also gather. They drift, and periodically dive. Sometimes other birds swoop in from above and land in a circular pattern on the water. The sun is like a spotlight on the sharp blues and whites of the landscape. It is very peaceful.
And then the snow scooters arrive. Clearly a tour group, since there are seven of them. The tour guide helpfully gathers his customers together to explain that a really fun thing to do at this point – where one of the path options is underwater and the other isn’t – is to roar through the path that is underwater. This way you make a lot of noise, throw lots of water up into the air, and feel really good about yourself. At the same time you scare off the wildlife, but who cares about that. They clearly believe what it says on their scooter trailers – The World is our Playground.
Scooters roar past us, twice – in both directions. The birds fly off, scattering in all directions, disappearing from sight. On the way back some scooters rev up to go even faster. We are willing them to tilt too much and fall off and get a good soaking, but no such luck.
As their party disappears round the headland the smell of petrol eventually recedes. It feels like a scene of devastation. It’s quiet again, but too quiet – no chattering birdsong or whooping. The water is very still. A couple of swans return, flying in low over the water, shrieking. Then they are alone in the water, drifting.
It seems there will always be bullies in the world’s playgrounds.