Raanujärvi, Finland (reindeer safari)

March 26, 2003
Weather: high of about 30ºF and sunny

We are invited to go on a reindeer safari with five other tourists and two Sami guides.

The safari begins with finding a snowmobile suit and boots that fit. Then we practice lassoing reindeer with a suopunki. 
Frisbee skills are helpful to get the suopunki to spin open properly. Here, our host is reeling it back in for Julie to give it another try.
Next, we have to harness our own reindeer. Luckily the reindeer are all extremely good-natured about being strapped to sleighs. They are also cute and strong at the same time. They take almost no guiding, being well-domesticated herd animals. We can just relax in the sled for the 5km trip.
It is a well-run safari, so we don't have to wait long for lunch when we arrive at our destination. On the menu: beer or juice, vegetable soup, rye bread, white bread, mashed potatos with lots of butter and milk, reindeer stew and cloudberries. We even have fresh crepes made over the fire with strawberry jam for dessert.
Sitting around the fire in the woods seems as comfortable as sitting in a cozy living room. Particularly with a full belly.
The four parts of the reindeer hoof all move independently and can spread out wide to act like snowshoes.
The weather is unseasonably warm. It isn't really supposed to warm up until next month, but it is already almost 40 degrees during the day and about 20 degrees at night.
I spot some northern lights from our bedroom and call Julie up from watching BBC downstairs. We can't bear to watch from the window, so we rush outside in all the clothes we can find and stand in the driveway. We are treated to the best show of northern lights that we could ask for. It is about -10C so perhaps that makes it a little better. The lights are dancing across the sky like shadows on a barn from a campfire. Color is pretty rare again, just like last night. It is almost all dull white, but there are hints of green or pink. A few times we could look straight up and see the lines and rays converge into infinite space right above us. Some of the flares behaved like eddies of smoke that you might get after someone walks swiftly past a smoky fireplace.

We can tell when the lights are getting particularly exciting because the dogs in all the houses up and down the river start barking in a frantic way. They seem truly frightened by the lights and have the same fresh emphasis with each new flare, like they've never seen them before.

This photo has been enhanced to within an inch of its life.

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