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Finnmark 2007 Diary » Blog Archive » The journey’s end

The journey’s end


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We’re outside Narvik on the West coast of Norway with a stiff wind blowing into our faces off the Atlantic. The dogs are being loaded onto the trailers, the wind sighs into the dwarf birches and the scattered pines, and the sun’s pushing through the clouds over the peaks behind us.

What have we just completed? We’ve reached our goal on the Skjomen fjord which slides into the North Sea and the Atlantic, from the Barents Sea approximately 1000 miles away…and this thanks to the 32 brave, gutsy dogs that pulled the five of us over some of the least hospitable tundra and taiga regions on the planet. We’ve travelled over glaciers, down frozen rivers, across mountain passes over 1000 metres high, in blizzard conditions, in blazing sunshine, invisible to each other at five meters, blasted by winds that devoured our cheeks, noses, ears, and brains. We escaped border patrols who would have impounded our dogs for six months if they’d caught us, we smashed into trees, lost our sleds racing downhill, capsized in water, dislocated limbs, broke ribs, performed involuntary somersaults when the dogs got side-tracked by a reindeer carcass, and lived sometimes painfully, mostly happily through conditions that would be perfectly normal in the life of a reindeer-herding Sami.

Why have we done this? To conduct field interviews with some of the first victims of climate change in order to understand how they, and their herds, are adapting to changing weather conditions – the nomadic reindeer-herding Flyt-Sami…and, at the same time, to collect data on temperature, wind conditions, snow and snowflakes for NASA’s world snowflake project. This is directed by Dr Peter Wasilewski and is part of the NASA History of Winter study. The whole, from our point of view, was to look at how human beings with their animals, living and working in the Arctic – indigenous to the Arctic – are developing new survival routines for dealing with change. The NASA study, thanks to Dr Nancy Maynard, is, in fact, working closely with the Ealat Reindeer project, directed by Svein Mathisen, which is studying reindeer herder vulnerability AND| resourcefulness, in relation to climate change, using the Flyt Sami’s own traditional knowledge, experience, and ground sense as well as scientific research.

It’s not obvious to have such traditional knowledge recognised as relevant, and precious, although, over the last 10,000 years the Sami have been proud of how little trace they’ve left of their passage. “Not Lords of Nature,” they say, “Just part of nature!” Yes, today, technology and mechanisation have brought walkie-talkies, GPS systems, and most of all the snowmobile to herding practices, but generally these tools are employed in a context of sustainability. Why? Because the Sami know – unlike us – how delicate, and crucial the environment is!

What have we learnt? That climate change is a reality of course – temperatures are rising, seasons are shortening for the herders, spring migration starts earlier, autumn migration later, year by year, and visibly over the last ten years. Conditions are increasingly unstable, the herders insist, and this demands from them imagination, flexibility, adaptability, on a daily basis…More important still perhaps than agreeing on the reality of climate change, is that it is neither a question or a possibility of stopping change, but more a question of learning how to live with it…

Conclusion: We can and need to learn from these indigenous Sami people, and others like them, how to live more carefully and more in tune with our environment…that climate change is a challenge, not a disaster, for us, for our children. Planet Earth is all we’ve got!

…and finally that for each of us this adventure was life-enhancing, challenging, and a privilege.

Gratitude is not such a big word, but it’s hard to express what we’ve been given…by all those we met on the journey who gave their time, their thoughts, their trust and hospitiality to us…and also by our back-up team too; by Tommy Larsen, the thoughtful encyclopedia, musher, the logistics man; by Roy Saetre, the ’Yeti’, bush-man, wilderness guide, and cameraman; and by Jan-Ivar Larsen, ’the Bear’, snowmobile driver and mechanic, all-round fixer. All, with their humour, kindness, energy and enthusiasm have helped make this expedition a success. Thank you, and until we meet again…

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