Life around The Arctic Circle
Last Sunday I took a road trip to the place I grew up in and love so much, Övertorneå in Tornedalen in the north of Sweden just on the border to Finland. It’s such a nice place with a rich and colourful history and, it’s a place that’s not only worth visiting in the summer to watch the midnight sun. You can go there all times of the year and enjoy the nature, the culture and life in general. And of course, in the winter you can experience the Aurora Borealis, the northern lights, which is an amazing experience. You can also go cross country skiing on the Tornea River, which is nowadays the border between Sweden and Finland, and in late winter when the sun has returned it’s the best way to spend a day, skiing on the white glittering snow and having a picnic next to an old barn on the shore. And when I write nowadays about the border it’s rumoured that when Sweden was drawing the border between Sweden and Finland, the border was supposed to be along Kalix River, but they drew the border along the wrong river and that’s why people speak Finnish, or Meän Kieli, in Sweden too.
First stop on my road trip was to go to Finland. Haven’t been there since the border opened up after the pandemic, and going to Finland was something we did every week when I was growing up. Finland is close, it’s just on the other side of the river and you just drive across the bridge and whoops, you’re in another country. This time I went there just because I could. Then I went back to Sweden. In the small centre of Övertorneå there was a nice exhibition with photos of life in Tornedalen during the 40s and 50s, and since I enjoy photos and history I was pleasantly surprised. There was also photos of what happened in Tornedalen during the 2nd World War, because while Russia was bombing Finland, some bombs fell on Swedish ground too. The war was very close to Tornedalen, just on the other side of the river. And I’ve heard many stories about those times from my old relatives, a lot of Finnish refugees came across the border and it was horrible watching the war on the other side of the river.
I also visited the church and the graveyard. The church in Övertorneå is old and has a rich history, it has one of Swedens oldest church organs and half of the organ is actually in another church further down south called Hietaniemi. Originally the organ comes from the German Church in Stockholm and was given to the parish. There was even an older church further north along Tornea River but that was taken by a spring flood when the ice was melting, so they decided to build the new church on higher ground. Also, the Russians have plundered the churches of Tornedalen and one of the church bells are rumoured to have sunk in the Bay of Bothnia. Yes, there’s lots of history around this part of the world and people have been living here for more than 10000 years and settlements from the Stone Age have been found, and the river was a central passage not just between the countries but also towards the north and the south.
After my visit to Övertorneå I drove north, and just outside our small village I passed this field that was occupied with so many reindeer having lunch. This year the winter has come so late so the reindeer can still find food on the fields. Yes, I had to stop and take some photos and just like the moose I photographed in the summer under the midnight sun, these reindeer seemed curious about who I was and what I was doing. And when you travel along the roads in the north you meet a lot of reindeer, it’s not like they’re afraid of cars. Sometimes they eat the salt that is put on the roads to melt away the snow, and other times they just want to get to the other side of the road. And when they’re on the other side they decide that they want to go back to where they came from. It can be quite annoying if you’re in a hurry but also a very nice experience. My family actually used to own reindeer, we’re not sami people but in the old days you were allowed to own reindeer if you owned land in Tornedalen. And when you own reindeer it’s not that you keep reindeer at your house or farm, they run free in the woods, but are gathered twice a year when some animals are taken to be food and the calves are marked to see which family they belong to. But I can’t go on to much about that now. Let’s just say, I like seeing reindeer and they taste great too. Smoked reindeer meat is the best thing in the world, and I used to be a vegetarian for 8 years but still think so.
Just look at the horns of the grey male reindeer, most impressive. When I saw the reindeer I whispered to myself “härkä”, which is what a taurus is called in Finnish and in the traditional language in Swedish Tornedalen which is called Meän Kieli, that means Our Language. It’s so funny how those words and expressions just come back to me. Haven’t used the word ‘härkä’ in ages but it’s just in my back bone.
So to summarise, I had a great Sunday in the place where I grew up, Övertorneå just south of the Arctic Circle and a short stone throw away from Finland.