A particular favorite phrase of Finns (at least the ones I listen to on the radio and watch on the TV) is ‘se on totta’ [say on toe-tah], which literally means ‘it’s true’. There was a similar phrase in Hausa (‘gaskiya’, gas-key-ah), that was also used to express a sort of camaraderie of thought – like a verbal version of a fist-pound to your heart/chest to express that you believe the person/thought to be (in the) right. I find myself thinking this phrase a lot lately – not sure if it’s a sign of a more relaxed and resigned attitude, but there it is. Example: this forest is stunning. Se on totta!
Looking back on January, I had a lot of noteworthy experiences and reflections, some of which I will now relate. Firstly, I took Mags with me to Kevo this month, where she wrote massive amounts of computer code and stuff for her dissertation. We also fit in some forest skiing (like cross-country, but the skis are wider and longer to help with the deeper snow), and a fun bout of downhill sledding in small plastic sleds. Funny story: Finns call sleds ‘sledges’ – Finns use British English, thus sledding sounds less like a child-friendly romping good time, and more like construction-worthy equipment (to me). Despite its more sinister nomenclature, Mags and I had a great hour doing the fast-down-slow-up circuit with some plastic sleds on the largest hill at Kevo. Not gonna lie – there were some wipeouts, as steering with your mittens while avoiding hazards of parked snowmobiles and forests didn’t always work as well as planned. Se on totta.
I think I did some sweet winter gas sampling, due mainly to a rig for keeping my collars from disturbing the snowpack as much by fashioning them a most excellent cardboard platform to distribute their weight better:
I also failed for 4 straight days to take a single, full core of frozen soil from my field site. Turns out the soils are still not frozen past the first couple of centimeters below the frozen water table, which made SIPRE coring impossible (although we tried that again, and this time I brought help in the form of Mags and Esa). I also tried a smaller, handheld drill and some fancy masonry drill bits that should have been able to cut through both ice and peat, but it couldn’t muster up the power required to cut through the ice water layer, unfortunately.
Coring attempt number 3: using an ice auger. Augers cut a hollow hole in the ice – this is what ice fisherpeople use to make the hole in the ice to fish through. Esa is my superhero, because he offered to help me in the field again, which was crucial. Esa would auger a hole, creating access to the unfrozen peat layers below, and then we would use a regular soil corer to sample from the peat below the auger hole.
The problem with this was mostly the slippery, half-frozen nature of the peat under the ice – each core that we cut out would slop out when we pulled the corer out of the hole, and the cores would immediately be re-integrated into the slushy peat, so even the couple of times when we shoved our hands down into the hole to try to retrieve the self-ejected core, we couldn’t find the thing! Needless to say, this made for some seriously frigid fingers, but Esa and I finally found a groove, and were able to get a few core-like objects out of the auger holes. These soil samples (for those of you following at home) will be used as the ‘deep winter’ timepoint on a DNA/rRNA project I’m working on with the University of Jyväskylä. They were also meant to be the soils that I will use for the stable isotope incubation experiments in Kuopio. The lack of complete cores and total guesswork about from where within the vertical profile they originated makes using these soils a little more tricky and a little less awesome. Esa and I had a grand old time talking about how we would design a peat corer, and Esa has since offered to try to build our dream corer for me (master welder to the rescue)! If the corer comes out well, we’ll try again for cores in February.
In true Kevo fashion, one morning I casually expressed interest in checking out the reindeer-related ecotourism in Utsjoki, as I thought it an appropriately Lappish activity to subject Mags to during her stay. Within 3 minutes of expressing said interest, we had booked a ‘reindeer safari’ with a friend of Esa and Niko. Never one to say ‘no’ to an adventure with livestock, on our last night at Kevo we drove into the village and met Erik at his reindeer farm, where he had prepared a ‘program’ for us. The 3-hour ‘program’ involved taking a reindeer-pulled sled through the woods out to a ‘laavu’ (a fabric tee-pee type structure wherein you build a fire and chillax). At the laavu we had a most excellent repast of campfire-prepared tea and roasted sausages while we quizzed Erik on various aspects of reindeer husbandry and linguistic subjects. We then roused the snoozing reindeer to complete the loop to end up back at the farm. Then we helped Erik feed all his reindeer, which was a little nerve wracking because he just told us what to do, handed us a giant bucket of their food, and then actually trusted us to do it right. Also, reindeer up close are scary! I know they’re herbivores, but damn, they’re still bigger than me, have giant, pokey heads, and often have ‘crazy eye’, which ironically makes me tense and freeze-up like a deer in headlights (all the better for them to skewer me). I had a really great time, despite my perhaps-irrational fear of the reindeer.
Of astronomical importance, the sun rose for the first time while we were at Kevo. The sun had set permanently in mid-November, but peeked over the horizon for the first time in about 2 months on January 16th, which just so happened to be a field day, so I had plenty of time to attempt to photo document the 2013 solar resurrection. The sunrise looks a whole lot like the sunset because they were only about 45 minutes apart… :)
Back in Rovaniemi, Mags and I devoted ourselves to winter sporting, aka: kick-sledding (pardon: kick-sledging) and cross-country skiing. Turns out there’s a nice, lit skiing trail that starts about 3 blocks away from my front door, so there were days when I would kick-sled home from Metla and turn around and go skiing for an hour before dinner. I mean, you’re already sweaty and warmed up, so why not switch footwear and just keep going? After failing spectacularly with Brandon, I was gratified that Mags took to the kick-sledding.
Being the converted Laplander that I am (and Mags an honorary one), we also decided that we needed to attend the finish line festivities of the ‘Arctic Lapland Rally‘, an annual derby-style race here in Rovaniemi where they race through the woods for 2 days, ending in downtown Rovaniemi on the evening of the second day. Apparently, Finns always win this (>30years of Finnish victors). Turns out this spectacular track record might have something to do with the vast majority of the contestants being Finnish… I think the first non-Finn we saw cross the finish line was the 4th-place driver (there are 2 people in each car), who was Swedish. There were a few Estonians, a few Brits, and a few from an unidentified Slavic country (Mags and I are a little iffy on our post-USSR flag ID skills). Best part of this whole affair (for me) was that the finish line girls wore fur, tights and Ugg boots, and black-and-white checkered cloaks, which is about as sexy as you can get when the mercury is in the negatives. Se on totta.
And finally, I got over my craziness and cooked some reindeer without Brandon. I made Mags the standby traditional dish of poron käristys (sauteed reindeer, served with mashed potatoes and lingonberries). I rocked it, not gonna lie. In my apparently not-so-modest opinion, I think it was the best käristys I’ve had here, but it might have something to do with my heavy hand with the butter, and putting a lot of yummy onions, garlic and cream in the mashed potatoes. That surely didn’t hurt the flavors! :)