That’s something that people who spend time being outdoorsy in cold places already know. Which means it was news to me.
I normally live in Washington, D.C., where a big winter storm brings a few inches of snow and the dead stop of all businesses, government, and life. Yes, we know, we’re hilarious when it snows. But the truth is, one or two snowstorms a year cannot teach one how to deal with bad weather. I’ve never learned to drive on icy roads, always thinking it’s better to just sit home and wait it out.
This year is different. I arrived in Kiruna, a Swedish mining town north of the Arctic Circle, on March 31st. That was Easter Sunday, which at home I associate with bunnies and sun and explosions of yellow forsythia. Here, it meant snow, snow and more snow. The next morning I had such a bad fall in the driveway that I had to go to the hospital a few days later to get my whiplash fixed. (I don’t know how to walk on ice, either.)
Kiruna is the largest town for hundreds of miles in this sparsely populated region. It’s pretty isolated already, and my boyfriend and I are living in an apartment at the institute where he’s a guest researcher, on a side road off the highway a few miles outside of town.
The bad news: That is some serious isolation. The good news: They have nothing but space, which means I have an office for the first time in almost five years. On the morning I took this picture, I picked up my laptop and PlannerPad, left my one-room apartment at the end of a hallway of professors’ offices, and climbed two flights of stairs to a hall occupied mostly by graduate students and my very own white-curtained, light-wood-furnished office.
With the exception of the view, across a sea of evergreen treetops to the black, stair-stepped mountain that marks Kiruna’s iron mine, I had a pretty normal workday. I did some writing on a travel essay that will probably never see the light of day. I transcribed notes from a reporting trip a few months ago. I went to the afternoon coffee hour—a ritual in Sweden—and helped the wife of an Iranian grad student practice her English.
After work my boyfriend and I went for a walk up the dirt road behind the institute, where we admired the patches of undergrowth appearing around the trees and amused ourselves by racing up a hillside in knee-deep snow (I won), throwing rocks through the ice on streams, and counting moth sightings (on this walk, a grand total of 1).
That was three weeks ago. Over that time, the snow holes around the trees spread, and then the temperature hit the mid-60s and snow vanished everywhere but the hardest-packed piles. Leaves unfurled. Flowers bloomed.
Soon bogs and mosquitoes will take over the woods; this weekend, the sun stopped setting and we’ll have light all the time until we leave in late June. I’ll miss the snow and the trees…and the office.