Ever-increasing daylight hours have brought leisure and ease to the forest. All the little things that have to be done can now be done in daylight. Seeing what you are doing makes the same tasks feel much easier and actually much faster, so we have more time on our hands. On guest-free afternoons we can sit with the dogs while we tend to the fire to prepare their food. We fetch water in the sun. Sometimes I can stand still and just admire all that daylight.
During a pickup one of the accommodation hosts asked if I started to get tired of the season. I told her it was quite on the contrary and that I feel I have much more energy now than earlier. “December is when I really get tired”. She laughed: I was apparently the first person who ever looked at it that way. But really, when you live with so little, tiny things can make you happy. The warmth of the sun and the ever-increasing bright hours of the day are just such a delight.
We’ve had a few beautiful cold days as of late but they have been rare. It’s been more of a spring than an actual winter, with temperatures rarely below the -10 degree mark. In addition, weather have been extremely volatile. Last week, the thermometer went in a single swing from -31 to plus 7. The trees have often been without snow, the trails have been dangerously icy, in some parts of the mountains there is no snow at all and the lakes are open.
Now that we’ve been out here by ourselves with the dogs for almost 3 months they are starting to become incredibly responsive to us and we have become very attached to them. It’s an enormous difference to work with such a small pack and be only two people, compared to the large-staffed big kennels we were at before. I am very happy we got to experience that. I guess this winter is a good preview of what life would be if we ever have our own dogs. Which hopefully, if the circumstances turn out right, will be the case. Life without them would seem rather empty.
Besides of the size of the group, we’ve also had the dogs on houses with chains rather than in kennels. This is an issue of great debate within the mushing community, especially in Sweden. Swedish law dictates that they must have kennels (and at their permanent home, these dogs do) and they must be paired at least two dogs together. Many people come to Sweden because of regulations like these that protect the welfare of the animals.
I’m not quite sure if the people who made these regulations have actually ever been at a sled dog kennel. The houses they dictate are too large so the dogs are cold in them, the cages many dogs like to spend a few hours in are forbidden, the kennels are a source of stress for dogs and a place where many serious injuries happen. Dogs get fed up from having to be in each other’s face all the time. They have no personal space, they have to choke in their food so that no other dog can come around to try and steal it.
When I started working with sled dogs I was also against keeping them on chains. I thought it was cruel for the animal and something people did out of laziness, as it’s easier. I had many debates with colleagues about this in the past years and even before this season I started changing my opinion. Having seen the difference now I don’t believe this is cruel anymore at all. I find the animals much more relaxed. The chains are long enough so they can still interact and play with each other. But when they get fed up, they have their own space, somewhere nowhere else can bother them.
It’s easy to sit in an office in a capital and think that what is being written on paper is in the interest of the animal. It’s impossible for a country as big as Sweden, with dogs living in a broad range of environments and being used for so many different purposes, to make one rule that fits all. But that is the situation in Sweden now. I don’t have the impression anyone in Stockholm has bothered to take a trip up and see if it actually makes sense. If you ask me, it should be up to the musher to see what fits him/her and that pack of dogs best.
We already know that this summer we will return to Flåm. When I think of going back to the comforts of society, it’s such a mixed feeling. Electricity, running water, taking a shower after work: all of these things will be great to have again. Just the idea of being able to toast a slice of bread already excites me. But there are so many aspects about being here that I will miss too: the sheer quiet, the forest around us, the dogs outside the door, fresh water from the lake. Last year in Norway we’d hamster on mountain water whenever we’d go hiking. There’s nothing like fresh water from a natural source.
We’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what we want to do towards the future. And our ideas are slowly getting shape. One big element is definitely to live in a quiet place, surrounded by nature, where we can escape into the wild. I could never trade this for a city life again. I love to go and visit friends and when I’m there I love to go out, to get a few beers, to get a nice dinner. And then after a while I feel that I need to escape. There is so much peace and quiet out here that I cannot miss anymore. I feel at ease in the middle of nowhere. The forest is where I’m home.