Sirma, Finnmark, Norway: 71 degrees North of the Arctic Circle

This is the kind of place where you can’t take the flowers for granted. Growing season is short here—and this year, “the coldest June in 12 years”, may be shorter than usual. So much of the year the ambient colors of nature vary between shades of blue, gray, black and white. When Spring comes, the green is electric in its boldness. Life announces itself with everyone blossom, berry, shoot that pushes up through the tundra.  My friend Anja and I were walking along the high tundra and found two fuzzy willow -like buds next to a series of green buds that were awaiting fertilization (the fuzzy ones were, apparently, “spent”). The call to life is so loud against the backdrop of tundra that it’s impossible to ignore. I love the lushness of the tropics, with color and scent and vibrant green everywhere.  And, one can get lost in the color. Here, that’s impossible; each color invites you to notice its unique beauty.

Two days ago, we gathered (DUG) angelica root from a river at the meeting point of  arctic “forest” (think tiny, thin, willowy trees) and tundra.  The roots are really fierce. They take a lot of digging and strategizing to remove. Both the roots and the greens are delicious, fresh out of the earth. This is what life tastes like. I once tasted fresh cloudberries up here—and think that’s the first time I ever tasted the actual color of orange. It was bursting with the “vitaminy” fresh fruit taste that is barely present in  the blander fruits sold in sterile supermarkets.

My friend Anja and I hiked yesterday and she showed me stumps of trees that were killed by a plague of beetles in 1960. That’s over 50 years ago! And, the trees have only begun to re-grow smaller trees. The stumps are now covered with gorgeous velvety moss and tiny flowers, and life is apparent—but there is not yet a “replacement” tree. “Everything is slower here. It takes time”, Anja said. “Imagine—over 50 years, and this is where the re-growth still is.”

Slow time is the pace of this quiet, still place. Dream-like slow. I often feel like I am in dream-time, or kyros,  when I look out at the long voluptuous mountains that slowly roll towards the sky—everything is slower, longer, bigger. More vast and spacious even if its craggy, rocky, cold. The inhale in this earth is deep and full. The exhale is a whisper.

Being in the arctic feels like being in an altered space, and, an altered state. I sleep deeply, and dream deeply. Memories surface with a virtual clarity that is astonishing, and sometimes causes me to re-orient to where I am, upon awakening.

There are some challenges here that are not talked about elsewhere—not even, hardly, elsewhere in Norway. What has happened to the Sami people is Norway’s shadow. Like many original, indigenous inhabitants, they were pushed off their homelands and now live a silent existence to those who don’t care enough to seek them out, which is much of the rest of Norway.  They were forced into boarding schools (as late as the sixties and, I think, the seventies) and given no choice but to convert, assimilate, sacrifice. Last time I was here, a debate was ongoing (again, in the North—elsewhere in Norway I didn’t hear about it, and, no-one seemed to know about it) regarding some new regulations the Norwegian Government was putting on ice fishing. This followed a series of regulations that seriously changed, and threatened, the way the Sami herd their reindeer—which is the way they have always done it. It is an issue of respect for culture and spirituality and way of life, and, it is more. It’s economic murder to limit their access to ice fishing, and land for their reindeer. The Sami, in my limited understanding of their lifestyle, really, REALLY know their reindeer. They know when to give them space and when to gather them; they know when to slaughter, when they are mating, birthing, dying. This intimate rhythm and reciprocal relationship is being threatened by challenges the government creates for a very ancient and traditional life practice.

Driving around today, I learned when the delicate white flower that precedes the coveted and very delicious cloudberry has been pollinated. This is an exciting sight—a field (swamp, actually) of bright, fresh white flowers that are suddenly bigger than they were just a little while ago (less than a day, it seems to me) announcing with a boldness nature doesn’t practice anywhere else that those berries will be “ripe for the picking” in Fall. My friend knows about cloudberry fields where the berries come earliest, and where they are lushest and most abundant, and where no-one else knows to go. As she just dropped me off at the airport, I took one look at her eyes and said “your not going right home, are you? You’re gonna look for cloudberries.”

I was right.  And I suspect she’s doing just that as I write.