It was a sunny Sunday, and the temperatures had been over zero for days, so we didn’t know quite what conditions to expect for skiing on the Kalix river. The snow would be soft, that’s for sure, and indeed as we lurched down to the river from the road we sometimes sunk up to the hip in snow. But once on the river where we could get our skis on everything was plain sailing. Smooth fast snow, perfect for gliding.

Now and again there were a few people out on the sides of the river. Cooking sausages, or just sitting in the sunshine.

A man on skis, warm enough to ski in just a lumberjack shirt, stopped to chat, and brought news of the fisherman’s hut, our destination, when we asked if there were people using it. There were, but he thought it might be possible for us to reach other places to sit.

Some intrepid skiers wanting a rest in the sun had ploughed their way with a lot of trouble through the deep snow to one side of the paths where they had made themselves a raised snow seat. We greeted them, impressed with the seat, remarking that life could be worse. They agreed it was indeed awful out here today.

As we always do when we come here, we passed the man who lives nearby who makes sure there is always firewood in the hut, puts food out for the birds, and keeps the snow pressed down so we can ski on it. He is a very kind, considerate local resident. He shouted hello from a nearby track and pressed on, dragging his dog behind him.

Further on we found the fisherman’s hut unoccupied, and better still, a wooden bench with no snow on it, right by the river, with snow around it forming a wind shelter. We were especially grateful for this, having watched a woman prepare it for us – a week ago. We’d been there then and met two women in the hut. At the time the wooden benches nearer the river were deeply covered in snow. We watched one of the women use a bit of driftwood to sweep the snow away. It was hard work – she only managed to get a bit off, and what was left was a soggy mess. ‘But’, she said, ‘that will be ok to use later’. Later, like, the next week, when we arrived wanting to sit in the sun. What a wonderful unselfish act that was. We appreciated it.

While sitting there we saw the people we’d greeted earlier on their snow seat, carrying their fishing rods. They skied on and out of sight.

Later a lone figure reappeared. It was the man, with his fishing rod, but now he was alone. I tried not to think he might have pushed his wife in the river, or buried her under the snow, but it was difficult because I’d just been reading a book of short stories in which there were a lot murders. We smiled at him, rather uneasily. He skied on.

We listened to the rippling water and ate our lunch.

When it was time to return we passed that man again, the one without his wife, sitting on the snow under a bare birch branch. He was talking on his phone. Reporting a murder, or arranging an alibi perhaps. So we just said hello again, and skied on.

I was looking for the whooper swans. They’d moved up river since we were here last. I left Rolf talking with the man with the lumberjack shirt, now settled on a bench by the bird feeders. I found the swans not far off – about five pairs. They appear in that particular stretch of water for just a few weeks every year, and it feels very reassuring to see them there again. There’s a timeless quality about their drifting around there, gathering for the next leg of their journey. I expect they have their own tales to tell, but all I heard was honking.

I returned to find Rolf still talking. He’d discovered that the man in the lumberjack shirt had used the computer program that he’d made for the mining company when he’d worked for them 25 years ago, long before we were living here. They had quite a few things to discuss. It was a rather surprising intersection of two people’s lives, uncovered one sunny day on the river.

Not wanting to go home yet we continued by car towards Nikkoluokta, heading for a place on the river where we knew there was a good view of the mountains. There was nowhere to park, so we intended just a pit stop. I got out briefly while Rolf turned the car round, and then the car got hard stuck in the soft snow. Oh the shame. We had a spade in the car so Rolf tried to free up the wheels.

Another car arrived and a man got out and started making helpful suggestions, and he and I and his partner were all pushing the car but still it wouldn’t budge. The man went to his car and brought out a spade neatly wrapped in plastic, before realising we already had one. We brought some gravel over to the wheels and tried pushing the car again. Eventually the car was released.

Obviously we were very grateful to the couple. They asked us where we lived and we said Kiruna, and then we asked them, and they said Stockholm. Now that was a surprise, Stockholmers not being known for their practicality or helpfulness. But they were both from Kiruna originally and were coming to stay in their family hut for a short while. (Aha, that explained the thoughtfully brought plastic covered spade, to move mushy springtime snow.)

On this one day on the Kalix river, we remarked in the car going home, we’d met several helpful, friendly people, and possibly, a murderer.