Saturday, 12 September 2015

Day 255: no deer, moss, a glowing hut and a bear


As we're staying on a reindeer farm, we reckon we should be able to get some great shots of reindeer. After breakfast, and making cheese and ham sandwiches for later, we head forth into the wider park. We walk along the wonderfully constructed wooden planked path snaking up the hill looking to shoot ourselves some reindeer. But they're sneaky! In the farthest distance if you squint and use the biggest zoom, you might just see an antler or a white tail bobbing away even further from us. Shades of those flamingos in Carmargue last year, I suspect! iReindeer, anyone?

We don't manage to capture a good Dasher, Dancer, Prancer or Rudolph photograph, so head off to photograph an ancient woodland instead. It's not as if the wood can be so evasive, can it? The wood is nothing like I've ever seen, it hadn't been copsed in maybe forever and has just run wild. The moss is so overgrown that it has formed large balls, the size of a small stool perhaps. They appear to be soft, springy and cushion-y, I test this theory by flinging myself down on them to get up close and personal with some fungi. If I ever have to spend a night in a forest, I hope I can make a bed out of moss like this.


We find suitable fallen trees to perch on and tuck into our lunch. Dirk has also brought along a large flask containing some delicious home-made salmon soup.


Further into the wood, whilst walking over more of the ubiquitous wooden walkways, I can see the ground below is entirely carpeted with a myriad of tiny yellow, green, red and pink leaves, it's just beautiful. Brian (the tripod) and I pose for a selfie against the floral backdrop.


After our woody exploration we return for dinner and then sit down by the tranquil mirror lake again, watching the birds and the sun slowly setting. Whilst sitting in a perfect place like this so still, so quiet, I always feel I need to store up this moment of utter serenity to recall again when everything is so much more frenetic.


We're staying close to home tonight for our next shot at the Northern Lights. We collect our tripods and a few more layers and walk out on the main road. Well, when I say main, there isn't a soul about, or a car. At the corner of the road is a swing seat and some mail boxes, and we suspect, a bus shelter. Above the mail box/shelter structure is a weather vane adorned with a Father Christmas in his sleigh, pulled by a team of flying reindeer. So we surmise it's a Father Christmas stop, or perhaps where you wait to board a vehicle to go and meet the jolly man in red himself. We ponder borrowing the swing seat to carry it over to where we will be standing looking skyward tonight.

Rob has already headed off to scope the best spot for us near a large pond, whilst Lorraine and Jill find a likely spot on the other side of the road. But they are disturbed by another near naked man who's appeared in his doorway to let his dog out. They're not entirely sure what the reaction might be if he spots a couple of cameras mounted with zoom lens on tripods apparently trained at his house. We don't really want to have Rob and all future groups banned from here!

We all go and check out the spot that Rob scouted, directly in front of a fisherman's hut. The ground is rather boggy and challenging to stand on with or without the addition of a mounted tripod. I end up finding a spot to sit on and truly wish I'd remembered to pack any waterproof clothing. My new waterproof skirt would have been very handy here, I'd also succumbed to obtaining a pair of the much hated (by me, anyway) waterproof trousers. And there's my new Scottevest jacket or gilet but no, all of them have been left at home. Instead I opt to suffer from rising damp during the hours waiting for *that* shot.

Rob tried to liven up our view by light painting the hut. Luckily we had lots of attempts, sometimes too bright, the next time barely discernible and then the suddenly the hut is all shades of red. Part of our equipment list was a head torch that had a red as well as a white light. The red is a much duller light so hence doesn't affect your night vision as turning on a bright white light does. But I think we occasionally labour under the misapprehension that it renders us invisible on camera. But what it actually does is light paint the rowing boats on the first night, the hut tonight with an eerie rosy glow. We all have many images that perhaps depict a Martian landscape rather than Lapland.

Tonight's Aurora is not as dramatic as previous nights but the light painted fisherman's hut definitely added an extra dimension and in my favourite shot almost looks as if some spooky glow is emanating from inside the hut itself.

On returning to our log cabin we're way too tired to upload photos or put anything away. I stand Brian up in the middle of the lounge area and when I peel my furry gilet off I just hang it lazily from the tripod head. When Jill gets up in the middle of the night she has a fright as suspects a bear might have entered our generally unlocked cabin (we found these Finnish locks very fiendish, either we couldn't unlock our hut or lock it again). But it wasn't a bear it was Brian, and he's harmless, a pussy-cat if you will!

Friday, 11 September 2015

Day 254: jays, sunset, lake and starry night Northern Lights

At breakfast on our first morning we are still buzzing from our Northern Lights experience. The group that were here with Rob this time last year didn't get a Northern Lights showing until the last few hours of the very last night. We have got some Aurora photographs in the bag, so any further shots are just a bonus. Though we still want to experience them again tonight. It's rather addictive!

Today we are going to explore the Autumn colours in and around Muoni, we'll be looking out for the Siberian jay, lakes, trees, plenty of mellow fruitfulness.


We drive to a large park just bursting with browns, oranges, yellows and golds. We make camp around the fire pit. Dirk, our resident firestarter starts gathering wood whilst we point our lenses at lichen, trees, sparkling water, and those elusive jays. I'm really trying demonstrate the Siberian jay's beautiful plumage, back-lit, but it's do tricky! We compare notes over reindeer soup sat around the fire and after what transpires to be over 350 shots of jays, I hope I have some keepers after all that.

After we're all jayed out we return to our wonderful log cabins and then gravitate to the lake to wait for sunset. It's so tranquil by the lake, it's not long before a Finnish couple stroll over, light the ubiquitous fire and produce sausages from about their persons. We learn over the next few days that this just happens in these parts; a fire is for sharing, and for sausages.

After the gorgeous sunset, including the surprise of an almost naked man running from between the trees and leaping into the still, cool, lake, we wrap up for another foray to photograph the Aurora.

This time we go up into the hills to get a different angle and almost immediately start spotting green streaks over our heads. It's not so dark yet so we find a different spot where the tree line will add an extra dimension to the photos we are hoping to capture. And then we wait.

We're out earlier tonight so we have more hanging around time. A couple start to feel too chilled and decamp to the van for some respite. The rest of us hang on just for a little longer, and then maybe a little longer more.

Then in the wee small hours the light show happens. Suddenly the green streaks across the sky over our heads and it's so bright. Much brighter than last night and vivid, like a child has grabbed a neon crayon and is scribbling across the inky black. For some reason Van Gogh's Starry Night is evoked by the Kermit green swirls.

Eventually we tear ourselves away and crawl back to our beds sated, but very tired, fingers crossed, another set of Northern Lights photographs hopefully secured.


Thursday, 10 September 2015

Day 253: a birthday wish granted

I've done that crazy thing again. Stayed late in the office (really late) Ubered it home, started packing (I know, I've been meaning to start packing for ages, but never got around to it. Well, to be fair I'd made some stacks of things to pack in anticipation...) then threw everything in another Uber and zoomed off to Heathrow. I've been really looking forward to this holiday to Lapland, I have little expectation but of course, really want to photograph the Northern Lights in all their glory.

There has been no time for sleep, breakfast, or it transpires, to actually put the essential items I'd gathered for the trip in the suitcase. It could have been worse but after buying a new waterproof skirt (that was a find), jacket and gilet (waistcoat of many pockets) for the occasion, none of them actually made the packing!

I meet Rob Canis (our tutor) and my fellow photographers by the check-in. I'm introduced to everyone but in a sleep-deprived befuddled state I seem to forget their correct names instantly. I'm convinced there's a John and a Wendy, but I'm not positive who is who. However there was no John nor a Wendy, in this case though.

I still need to procure some Norwegian Krone but the Travelex people seem determined to send me on a wild goose chase around the terminal, and eat up all my airport shopping and breakfast consuming time. I finally get to the gate, still sporting the tiara I just had to wear today (despite it causing a minor drama in security), without Krone (it was just too painful in the end) and mighty hungry. I'd set my heart on a slip-up birthday Eggs Benedict but the plan was thwarted by my frustrating forex fail. But there is a vending machine by the gate, perhaps I'll get lucky. This particular vending machine only serves Ben & Jerry's and so my birthday breakfast turns out to be chocolate ice cream. Breakfast of champions!

We change flights in Helsinki, again time is short so I have to refrain from checking out Marimekko, which I was rather keen to do. My evil plans of self-gifting on my birthday are entirely curtailed. Finally we arrive at Kittilä and meet our guide, Dirk, to drive us to the reindeer farm, our home for the first few nights. It's so exciting to be here, all around us is the evidence that Father Christmas lives here. Obviously we are way too early to see him, he's no doubt, in a workshop or auditioning elves, or something.

We have some reindeer stew (sorry, Rudolph) and are making our way back to our cabins and Dirk is pointing at the sky saying we have to get a move on, get away from the distracting lights as the Aurora Borealis is upon us. We can't see anything, try as we might we squint at the dark sky, but it looks normal to us. Dirk may be Dutch but we're all convinced his years in Finland have turned him Finnish, Lappish or maybe even Sami. He can definitely smell the Northern Lights so we grab our warm clothes, tripods and head torches and head for a lake.

And there the magic happens. I'm not sure I can really describe was we saw, it was a truly breath-taking spectacle for hours. With the naked eye, we were standing in a huge, ghostly chandelier with long pale tendrils constantly shivering and dancing all around. Then a huge swirl of brighter white light would snake across the black sky totally enveloping us with this mystical glow. With the longer exposures, our cameras could discern the iridescent rainbow colours and the outline of the trees reflected in the lake. We stopped shooting in the wee small hours and the light show was still performing. What an astonishing and magical experience!

We realise later that the red lights on our head torches have rendered the rowing boats by the edge of the lake red in our long exposures. It's a curious, though not expected, phenomena.

I haven't slept for so many hours but it doesn't matter as the euphoria is carrying us through. My birthday wish of Northern Lights was granted, that's exactly what I hoped for when I blew out the candles on my cake! Happy birthday to me!