A sea of antlers
Some say that routine wears off the shine of everything, even of the most meaningful or deepest experiences. I am not sure. There is something driving the Sámi out to the herd, beyond mounts and frozen rivers, that stands up to the waves of industrialization and modernization, even as today they ride snowmobiles rather than reindeer. Engines did not destroy traditional activity, rather, traditions seized bluntly and wittingly on technology, taking to their need and leaving out what could alter them in essence. In the foreseeable future, at least. And it might have not been ever so. Heavy industry is another story.
Something is calling the Sámi out to the herd, and the muted trample of thousands of hooves, the open skies and blinding snow, the silence nearly absolute when the procession stops might have less to do with it than the ancient relationship between man, animal and the Whole, to name one explanation -- or than some other aspect of it, beyond our understanding and barely within reach of our own experience.
Routine may not be in question, and was definitely not, for us, the outsiders.
First sights of the flock
On the move
On top of it all
We drove from the university in our host's van, dropped by her home to get suitable clothing for extreme conditions, left again to join the herd and the other members of the extended family who were already underway, swapping places on the snowmobile and on the sled, where we squeezed onto very unpractically for the first and very chaotic ride.
Our hosts drove the herd farther away from the town, from where it was already straying, and we climbed up to a mountain top to set up the camp. The ground was covered in bushes still bearing berries from the previous summer, preserved there by the cold; they had a little tart, delicate flavour. A little further, a pile of rocks, and further away, soft valleys and other mountains.
Fire was made in the lavvu as soon as the men brought back wood and we ate a sumptuous lunch inside the tent. I had reindeer meat, the first time I ate mammal meat in ages. I am a vegetarian for ethical and political reasons, and free-range, berry-fed reindeer meat offered by the very people who overlooked the birth of the animal and slaughtered it themselves is ethical enough to my taste, thank you.
Leaving the camp, we rode down the mount to see the capture, with the traditional Sámi lasso, of a female belonging to another herd located on the other side of the Finnish border. One of the men left the group to drive the animal to its own herd, some forty kilometres away. We also stopped by a lake on the way back for some ice fishing, without much success.
I sat on the sled for the last ride back to the village, but we had learned how to sit on it in the meantime. It was more comfortable that way, but a bit scary as well, as we were speeding on thin ice along a free stream of Spring waters, up and down the hills at an impressive pace, in the raking light of the afternoon sun.
Some routines are better than others.