Into the Mountains

Eva and I exchange Christmas gifts. My present is soft through the wrapping paper, like clothing. I unwrap a pair of thick woolen mittens, in a neutral brown-grey – the exact same mittens the rest of the family wears inside their windproof, waterproof overmitts. They fit my hands perfectly.

“The wool I used still has a lot of animal fat in it,” Eva explains cheerily. “They will keep your hands warm.”

It feels like a rite of passage, of some sort. I begin wearing them every day.

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At my request, we return to Bjørnfjell. The men leave a few hours before us, sweetly, to start the stove and warm the cabin. We leave the house in the late afternoon (although by that time it feels like late at night), driving blustery winter roads that wind up and up through the darkness to a single parking lot in what appears to be the middle of nowhere. We (Eva, Anna, Gry and I) unload our backpacks, our skis, poles, groceries, and dog from the car, strap everything to our bodies, and embark into the darkness. It feels good to be on skis again, and my headlamp works this time. I follow Anna’s silhouette, shuffling through the darkness and blowing snow. After about half an hour, we arrive at their cabin, a small, cozy hut painted a charming red with white trim. Tonight, it gleams white in the cold winter air, encrusted in thick layers of ice crystals. We shuffle inside and promptly make tacos.

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The days at the cabin are, magically, like stepping back into time. Everything is just as it used to be. Stian has baked me my own loaf of gluten-free bread, so I can partake in breakfasts and lunches with everyone else: bread, bread, and more bread, with every imaginable topping in perfect open-faced sandwiches. And coffee. Tons of coffee, even with dinner. This is how it is, now, in the dark months. How else have you planned to stay awake?

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We sleep in late like always and it is already getting light when I wake up, which means it is nearly eleven in the morning. We decide that the girls will go make a grocery run while it’s still light out. We don skis and empty packs, and harness the dog, heading out into the rolling hills and mountains of Bjørnfjell – a sprawling community of cabins scattered here and there among the granite boulders, loosely clustered around a train stop. For me, the train is the most surreal part of Bjørnfjell. Everything sits so still in perfect winter silence, until suddenly without warning a train flies from an underground tunnel in a rush of tungsten light and noise. And then it’s gone again. Soft hues of tungsten gold and magenta pool in the dips in the snow around the station, a haven of visual warmth in this world of blues and greys.

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We ski across the border to Sweden, to the little ski resort town called Riksgränsen, where we used to get our groceries. This year, though, too little snow covers the ground for the resort to be open, and we must continue further on to Katterjåkk. By the time we arrive at the little store, leaving our skis standing outside, we are starving, and sit down for some food. Groceries are so much cheaper in Sweden, it’s amazing. We wander the store in our parkas and backpacks, marveling over the selection of fresh fruits and gluten-free products available at this tiny store in Swedish Lapland. Mangos, avocados, passionfruit and pineapple line the shelves. We buy some cheese, and more importantly, more coffee.

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When we’re fed and resupplied, the 2 PM sky is already a deep indigo, and we decide to traverse a gigantic frozen lake on the way back. We are a group of shuffling black silhouettes in a playground for snowmobiles, which are illegal in Norway. Their lights fly across the lake’s surface through the darkness. Eventually, we veer off the snowmobile tracks and into the mountains that these women know by heart, even in the dark. I offer my headlamp but no one needs it. The wind picks up and ice crystals blast into our eyes. We don’t get home until nearly 5 PM – our errand run turned full-on expedition.

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For me, the rest of the weekend is spent outside, skiing around with my Hasselblad. Eva and Gry go skiing; Stian and Mikkel go hunt arctic grouse, and return happily with a handful of bloody white birds. I take so many photos I can’t even think about them all at the same time; it’s too recent, and too many. It is the perfect weekend. We return to town exhausted and happy.

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