Freezing temperatures and a winter wonderland: the Arctic Circle is a beautiful but dark place in the winter, with only a few hours of sun. I was lucky enough to travel to Finland in February to experience all it had to offer for a week, doing some work for one of the local Lapland companies. Touching down in Levi, you knew it was cold as the planes wings and body were getting de-iced for the return journey south to Helsinki. A balmy -18 degrees welcomed me on the ground, with layers and layers of clothing the only solution to the weather.
I met up with my good friend Konsta and his Finnish ally Juuso who were going to show me around for 7 days. We started by getting up for sunrise the next morning and snowshoeing up one of the only hills in the region to get a view of the vast wilderness, completely shrouded in trees as far as the eye can see. We also completed a full day on the Levi ski slopes, even though the sun was not showing face so far.
After a few days in the Levi region, we packed our bags and headed south, towards the national park of Oulanka. Incredible scenery, hardly a soul around and a tranquil and peace I’ve never witnessed before: such a calming environment that de-stressed you almost instantly. Walking beside the giant trees with just the rushing of the water beside you being all you can hear is what this country is all about. Of course, at night we participated in the traditional relaxing Finnish culture of going to the sauna, a great way to unwind after a long day of driving and hiking.
Up until this point, we had not been fortunate enough to see any local wildlife, but our luck was about to change, as we stumbled upon a reindeer farm near Kuusamo, who were happy enough for us to join them on one of their daily feeds to the animals. A reindeer farmer never gives up how many animals they may have in their farm, as it is bad luck, but this heard was pretty small. Being low maintenance, easy to handle and friendly to people, they are a great companion to local families, who benefit not just from their products but also the tourist impact as well.
After our venture to see the wildlife, the sun eventually appeared, giving us a brief glimpse of sunset and emphasising just how scarce the sun is for the area. Suddenly a dark and depressing sky is replaced by the warm glow of life and light. It certainly makes you appreciate the sunlight, although saying that we also aren’t blessed with its presence all the time in Scotland!
On my last day in the area, I watched Konsta in wildlife action which was incredible to see first hand. Zipping in and out of the snow trees were Siberian Jay birds, which seemed drawn to him and his camera. The amount of time that goes into getting just one bird picture is hard to comprehend: we stayed there for a few hours and I was happy with just a handful I took, including the one below. Patience is the key to this type of photography, and it was definitely a challenge out of my comfort zone that I enjoyed.
After the bird action, it was time to say goodbye to my fellow photographers and the beautiful wildlife and forests of Finnish Lapland. As sad as it was to not see the Northern Lights due to the cloudy weather, it was still a lot of fun to see so much snow and how a culture adapts to their natural world and weather around them each year.