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Finnmark 2007 Diary » Blog Archive » An old man’s memories…

An old man’s memories…


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Lahpoluoppal, on the the last leg to Kautokeino: Ule Henrik Gaino looks after the state fjæl huts where we stayed the night. He’’s a mere 67 years old but he’s lived and seen a lot. A wiry tentative body, strong ageless face, with the smile of a wise child about him, and gentle hands which moved and turned with his words. His father earned his living as a hunter, particularly of Ptarmigan his record year brought in over 3,000 birds– and he trained his son to be of the Vidda, not independent of it, and to watch and experience as a tracker and hunter.

Brought up in a Sámi family with no Norwegian Ule Henrik was forced to go to a boarding school at the age of 7 in Kautokeino. Here the terms lasted three months and the holidays a few days. He was not allowed to speak his own language, understood not a word of the language he was required to communicate in, but found himself chastised enough to acquire it speedily. After school, and the war years, he followed in his father’s footsteps. He snared ptarmigan for a living, as well as building and repairing fences for the Flyt (Nomadic) Same’s reindeer. His knowledge of the wild, and of the predators that lived in the Vidda brought him a reputation, and government work as a wilderness ranger. He was the man who registered all the dangerous animals living in the area, controlled their population according to government specifications, and was able to communicate with his fellow Same on the proximity of predators to their flocks.

Checking out the bear lairs in Spring was a heart-in-the-mouth exercise he told us. There was always the possibility that a female would still be there with her large cub, ‘so you had to prepare to run like hell.’ He’d also spend time canoeing on the rivers, checking on the fish stocks. And now, although he’’s retired officially, he’’s far too useful to be left in peace.

In his youth, before the road was built through his village, Ule Henrik remembers running home fast from playing in the forest because a pack of wolves had come too close. He also remembered how the Flyt Same would come to pick the lichen for winter feeding because his home area was the richest within the Kautokeino Commune for this wonderful foodstuff. Returning home at night, even with no moon (and after a few drinks) was easy because once close to the house, Ule Henrik says he would bounced through the springy lichen. Then they started using iron rakes to clear the lichen, which scraped the rocks bare so there was nothing left to grow for the next year.’ Even then, the lakes were frozen in October and the first snow fell on frozen ground. The reindeer could come into the winter pastures easily.

The road built in 1972 brought great change. More people looking for the lichen with their iron tools, and with them the warmer autumns, the later winters, the earlier springs which turned the herding upside down. ’Ule Henrik seems to have few if any prejudices, except concerning waste. He mentioned how symptomatic it was to see tourists making great gready fires in the wild, which you had to sit so far away from that you don’t get heat, while the Red Indians (as he called them) and the Same, make small fires which you sit close to and they keep you warm! His life at the heart of nature has given him joy, which seems to balance nicely with his financially demanding wife who insisted he demand a fee for talking with us, that we remove all dog shit from the snow before departing (which we habitually do without being asked), and that we pay extra for squeezing more people into the two cabins than booked. His view was that if we cleared the most visible excrement it would be enough, as her eyesight wasn’’t what it used to be… and as for the fee… he shrugged, so the film crew produced a small emolluement for their interview - worth every penny!

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