A snowmobile overall, rugged shoes, gloves and a helmet. Your own snowmobile too. Catrin gives a thumbs-up and positions herself on the snowmobile seat. She has, after all, never been on a snowmobile before. A member of the group wonders about the chances of spotting moose...
The cups are all handmade. They are unique and Catrin chooses carefully. She finally settles for one with a bone inset and an elaborate engraving. She holds up her cup and Thorbjörn pours the potboiled coffee.
Catrin is from Germany, southern Germany more precisely, from Cologne. She is one of about ten Germans who have never been farther north than where they are right now, in the forests surrounding Svansele and what is sometimes called Europe’s last wilderness.
Even though it is midwinter, the wilderness exhibition will immediately give you an idea of the entire subarctic fauna. All animals are represented – from small willow warblers to golden eagles, wolverines and wolves. Thorbjörn is, as always, in a great storytelling mood. With great enthusiasm, he mixes anecdotes from his eventful life in the forests around Svansele with facts about the animals and their behaviour.
– What are those up to? a member of the group asks, pointing at a montage of three bears looking like they’re about to launch an old rowboat.
– They sure make you wonder”, says Thorbjörn. This may well be my favourite montage in the entire exhibition.
A snowmobile overall, rugged shoes, gloves and a helmet. Your own snowmobile too. Catrin gives a thumbs-up and positions herself on the snowmobile seat. She has, after all, never been on a snowmobile before. A member of the group wonders about the chances of spotting moose. They are wild animals after all. Thorbjörn laughs.
– You will probably never have a greater chance than you do here.
Catrin and her fellow travellers are of course not very used to manoeuvring snowmobiles through the Swedish Lapland winter landscape, however, they are fast learners and Thorbjörn helps anyone who needs it to get back on track.
Thorbjörn raises his hand and everyone behind him stops. He has found tracks. Elk tracks. The curious group gathers around him. Thorbjörn points to black, round pellets in the snow.
– Moose droppings.
As a light snowfall begins, Thorbjörn tells the group about how the elk in the north live their lives, how the cows reject the calves when they’re old enough to take care of themselves and that their favourite food is spruce sprouts.
Someone in the group wonders if it will soon be time for the real deal.
– Yes, the snow tracks are in our favour, says Thorbjörn and starts his snowmobile again.
Suddenly they’re right there. The moose. Catrin, who rides first in the procession of snowmobiles is also one of the first to notice Thorbjörn’s outstretched hand.
– An moose calf weighs no more than 15 kilos at birth but in the same autumn it can grow to weigh nearly 100 kilos, says Thorbjörn.
– Fantastic, Catrin says calmly, mother and daughter. The moose are not noticeably affected by suddenly finding themselves in the limelight. Everyone in the group has plenty of time to take a look at the large animals amongst the pines.
– Moose in northern Sweden normally grow larger than moose living further south and a really large bull moose can weigh over 500 kilos, Thorbjörn continues.
At the wilderness camp there is no electricity. No running water or other modern conveniences. Torches flicker everywhere. It’s already dark outside and it’s not even four o’clock in the afternoon. There are rugged log tipis, a couple of cottages, a hot sauna and steaming outdoor baths. In the main tipi, Thorbjörn has three muurikka griddle pans on the open fire. Fish on one, meat on the other, potatoes and vegetables on the third.
– Just salt, he says as he puts the saltcellar down. No other spices, there’s no need. The meat and the fish have plenty of natural flavour.
The mood in the tipi is quiet. The fire is crackling and the conversations are many but low-voiced.
Catrin sits in silence. Soon it will be time to return to life outside. To the city pulse in Cologne. To all the thousands of people who surround her every day, without her even thinking about it. In the forests surrounding
Svansele there are no unknown people. Most things are different here. Then someone says “Let’s have a sauna” and rises to their feet. The others slowly follow.
– Oh yeah, Thorbjörn says with a smirk, There is a slide from the sauna down to the river. I have cut a hole in the ice and lowered a ladder. If you’re up for it, that is.
Catrin smiles at him, to show that she accepts the challenge. If you are in Swedish Lapland for the first time and you have gradually been introduced to its wilderness, you have almost no choice but to try ice-bathing.
Svansele Wilderness Centre tailor your activities according to your preferences. They offer wilderness living and down to earth hospitality. Activities range from quiet berry/mushroom picking to full on snowmobile and ice racing action. More on www.svansele.se >>