After getting over the Failed Family Holiday Funk, we actually had a great time in Finland. The other adventurers, the ones who signed up for an "Adult Trip" (which doesn't mean they were doing kinky things behind the wood shed) were a fun bunch and we ingratiated ourselves into their company.
If you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, consider visiting Lapland in the spring. The April Arctic sun rises around 4 am and doesn't set again until after 9 pm. It was a brand new experience to savor such long days of snow. On a bluebird afternoon we set out at 2 pm on a 10 km snowshoe hike with Z in a sled and got back with plenty of light remaining at 7:30. The day we visited a nearby ski area Z & C were still bombing down the hill at 5 pm and only stopped then because our bus was leaving. The sunsets at home tend to hit the horizon and disappear within a few minutes. But the Arctic sun takes a languid few hours to sink toward land, bask the frozen world in a golden glow, then reluctantly retreat behind the trees, like a child fighting the need for sleep.
The hands-down highlight of the week was dog sledding. Although it was hard to believe that a sled of dogs would be handed over to novices, especially ones who didn't speak Finnish, we found the dogs to be so agreeable and friendly they could only have been rejects from a professional team - the ones who lacked the bloodthirsty lust for winning but, like me, were more suited to a good day of fun. As we were given a pep talk on how to stop the sled before mowing down the driver in front of you, the dogs got more and more excited. There's a fevered pitch of mania among sled dogs anticipating a run. If they hadn't been so incredibly friendly, I'd have been a nervous wreck. I've never seen so much potential energy vibrating in an animal before. The dogs leaped and barked, whined and shimmied, quivered and jostled. When the sled ahead finally pulled away, our team of six barked a battle cry and took off like hounds on the tail of a fox.
The most important skill involved with first time dogsledding is stopping a team of bionic canines. The sled brake is a toothed bar of metal on a spring that spans the width of the runners. Braking before a turn requires a light foot on the brake and a weight shift to the inside runner. But stopping the team requires a full body crouch onto the brake bar in order to avoid having your dogs continue to power ahead regardless of any stationary object. At one point the person behind us lept off her sled in order to avoid a tumble and her dogs kept running, unconcerned by the human (me) and the sled in front of them. As the huskies bore down on me I remember thinking if it might be possible to lose my legs. But they managed to swerve at the last second. The only casualty was the back most dog who wound up being the sacrificial buffer between me and the oncoming sled. She was a little banged up but not significantly injured.
Huskies are strong and determined and seemingly happy to pull hundreds of pounds. But there's another skill huskies possess that perhaps no other dog does: the ability to relieve themselves while in full run. A husky's gait changes when it's readying itself to poo. Somehow it manages to rock back and forth on its hind legs while it's front legs continue the right/left gallop. Then steaming turds start falling from their behinds and the delightful pine air turns foul for a few seconds until your sled has passed over the deposits.
The other high point of the week was a visit to a reindeer farm. After WWII, the reindeer population in Finland was dispersed and decimated. By the 1970's their numbers had rebounded so robustly to over 400,000 that the landscape was suffering the effects of overgrazing. Currently the Finnish government tightly limits the population to around 200,000. Every reindeer is owned by a reindeer farming family who each year must cull a certain number so they have no more than the previous year. The only way for a farmer to increase his or her heard is to buy them from another farmer who wants to decrease his own holdings. Our hearty host was a 4th generation reindeer farmer and she was an encyclopedia of reindeer information. We learned that reindeer skin is black to better absorb the sun's heat. Their toes splay like a camel's for better traction in the snow. They grow a new set of antlers every year and each antler has a distinctive shape, like a fingerprint, which will grow identically year after year. Perhaps most importantly we learned that lichen is reindeer crack and if you find yourself wandering into a herd with lichen in your hands, keep it away from your face.
Many of the reindeer were pregnant and I spied the movement of a reindeer baby along the profile of a swollen belly. We completed the circle of life by cooking reindeer sausages over a fire inside a traditional Finnish house, which looks like a giant wooden pyramid sunk down into the snow with a door at one end. We left with watery eyes and a hacking cough, picked up our reindeer drivers licenses (good for 5 years) and before we left, the farmer whispered in Z's ear which of their reindeer would be the one to join Santa's team this year.
And finally, though Z didn't have any other kids to play with at Basecamp, he did have Vanilla. C told me Vanilla was her given name because, simply, her parents liked the word. She showed up on day 5 as an intern and, because the staff was sympathetic to our situation, was put in charge of playing with the 5 year old. Z was in heaven. C and I got to take a full day snowshoe hike together while they built a snow person, went sledding, and made Easter decorations. He was besotted and we were re-charged.
Not surprisingly, Finland made us miss the Methow Valley, snow, mountains and flying down hills with little sticks on our feet. Thank goodness we got even one week of real winter. By the time we left Basecamp, and said goodbye to the gracious group of people who had not signed up for a trip with children, the snow was turning to slush. We were a bit reluctant, but ready to return to spring. And besides, we had another whole week of vacation yet to go.
P.S. A word about last week's quote. Z went through a surprisingly short period of swear word experimentation. Since we understood very well that this child would resist our attempts to ban him from speaking the four letter wonders, we compromised: He could speak potty mouth but only when he was in the bathroom. This was back in 2012 and for about 4 months we could hear him weaving a tapestry of profanities while on the toilet. So even though the F word quote appeared to fit the situation of last week's post, it was actually taken out of context by a couple of years. I can happily report than he no longer swears or asks for us to wipe his bum.