Several centimetres of snow have arrived during the previous night. The December frost nips just a little bit at my cheekbones, but I've prepared myself for the elements by dressing as warmly as possible, exactly the way the reindeer farmers have instructed me in booking the programme. I'm on my way to experience a reindeer sleigh ride for the first time in my life, and I have great expectations for the excursion. I had booked my programme by ringing the reindeer farm directly a couple of days before, and a warm and pleasant feeling still remains from the phone call. It's almost as if it was always clear to the both of us that I'd make my reservation with the reindeer farm hostess (her name is Anu). She talked with me in a relaxed way in her distinctive dialect, and we also agreed that she would order a taxi on my behalf - payment to follow during the programme at the farm.

As I leave the cab, a small brown dog approaches me in the reindeer yard courtyard. I recognize this friendly creature as a Lapland reindeer dog and bend down to say hi. After our brief encounter, the dog abruptly turns on his heels and disappears to go back to his own activities. Soon I see a figure emerging from the dim light, who greets me in an audible voice well before we actually meet. The man introduces himself as Jani, and tells me he's the host of the farm. He's wearing amusing slippers, which he refers to as valkkonutukkaat - white reindeer shoes in the Lapland style. I compliment him on the footgear and take a couple of snapshots at the same time. Jani has nothing but praise for these white reindeer shoes, saying they're the world's warmest - especially when hay is used as a substitute for socks.

Cloaked in the crimson hue of the sunrise, the reindeer farm looks like something out of a fairy tale. The frozen snow creaks under our feet as we stride across the courtyard toward the queue of reindeer waiting in the dusky light. Otherwise - no matter what the direction - it's as quiet as a mouse. As we get closer to the reindeer, I note that a few other visitors to the reindeer farm are standing next to the queue. In addition to me, an Asian couple as well as a Dutch family of three are here to participate in the same excursion. We nestle ourselves underneath the thick felt blankets - and our ride can begin! I fill my lungs with fresh air and attune all my senses in line with the atmosphere. The queue of reindeer move effortlessly in the snow and the jingle of the lead buck rings out in the air. After some travel, the Dutchman enquires from the last sled in the queue about whether or not there's something wrong with the reindeer's legs - because he hears them ‘cracking'. Just a moment before, I had taken note of the same thing but had chalked it up as natural - just part of being a reindeer! Jani shouts from the lead sleigh that the legs of the reindeer make a snapping noise so that the animals are able to hear each other and don't end up separated from the herd, even if it's dark. For a long time I concentrate on listening to the crack crack crack and following the amazingly precise footwork of the animal proceeding in front of me - till I suddenly notice the beauty of the snowy Siberian spruce forest and decide to pull out my camera.


An overwhelmingly beautiful landscape of fells opens up before us at the edge of the Siberian spruce forest. Far away in the wetlands, two female reindeer are digging up some food from beneath the snow cover. They follow our procession from a distance with a stern eye till they decide that we're harmless and they can continue their digging. I've heard that in the winter reindeer mainly dig lichen out from under the snow cover, but in the summer they're omnivorous, eating practically everything that's green. After a sleigh ride lasting an hour, I feel languid and relaxed: it's as if I'd been able to sleep for 24 hours in a bed as soft as cotton wool owned by a princess, with no worries about tomorrow! Upon our return to the farm with the animals that pull the sleigh nearby, Jani and I chat about reindeer and the herder's life. Jani tells us the names of the bucks that served us during the ride and describes each one's personal features in an amusing way, with a twinkle in his eyes. It is endearing to me to note that these bucks trained to pull sleds are not just beasts of burden: rather, they also appear to be important, respected members of the family.

Before the much anticipated coffee break, we slip into the enclosure for the domestic reindeer - where I feel like I'm the world's most popular girl! I'm surrounded by no fewer than twelve small creatures as I stand amused within the ring, offering my new friends lichen from a little burlap sack. The calves appear to be happy as they eat - as if they were big bunnies - generous bunches of lichen from my hand. As they concentrate on eating, I have the opportunity to scratch the back of their ears and experience what their fur feels like between my fingers. I've always imagined that reindeer fur is thick and rough, but it turns out that it's surprisingly soft and fine. Jani explains that the internal part of the fur is hollow, for which reason it insulates well against the cold and reindeer are able to manage even in severe frost. The calves are so darned sweet that their activities could be observed from one hour to the next, without getting bored in the least. When the sack of lichen has been gobbled up entirely, we bid farewell to these young deer and follow Jani into the warm kota (Lapp tepee). The kota turns out to be bigger than expected, and something beguiling tickles one's sense of smell. There's a touch of smoke in the fragrance, along with sweetgrass and tar. Behind the buffet, a small, dark woman is busy at work. She receives us happily, greeting us and asking how our reindeer ride went. The Asian couple, Dutch family and I all express our appreciation and praise the outing in one voice as the woman pours steaming hot coffee from a pot into our cups. The woman turns out to be Anu - the reindeer farm hostess with whom I had earlier enjoyed a conversation on the phone. Many questions have arisen in the minds of the Asians, which Anu answers with the confidence of experience. Sitting with my cup of coffee before me, I notice that her explanation is made up of very small individual tales and that she has a very personal approach to how she tells them. In the midst of the story-telling, she shows photographs by means of a video projector on the wall of the kota, and I feel privileged to catch a glimpse of their family album. It would be interesting to get more of an acquaintance with their everyday life. It must differ extremely from my own in Helsinki - surrounded by the hustle and bustle of life in the capital region.

Suddenly Anu picks up a big reindeer hide drum from the table, and asks if it's all right if she ‘yoiks' - in other words, sings in the traditional Sámi style. As you might guess, no one among us prohibits her from doing so, and soon she positions herself close to the fireplace with the drum in her lap and lets her voice rise to the occasion. The drum delivers an amazingly strong, heavy sound, proceeding hand-in-hand with the woman's pure and sensitive singing voice. Yoik proves to be enormously complex, and I listen enchanted as she allows the Sámi vocal style to grow into an intensely fascinating world of sound, alternating naturally in terms of pitch, tempo and rhythm. For some reason, I am moved to the extent that it's difficult for me to hold back my tears. As the yoik comes to an end, I assure her, laughing, that I am crying only because I feel fine - not because her Sámi singing had offended me due to flaws in her presentation. I observe that the Dutch woman is wiping her wet eyes with a wide smile on her face. I'd have many questions, but because I'm so moved I can't say a thing: rather, I concentrate on gazing at the animated dance of the flames and enjoy to the hilt the glow of their warmth. Nevertheless, a moment later I get the opportunity to ask about matters on my mind, and I hear among other things about the everyday life of Sámi people today and the ancient faith of the Sámi, in addition to fascinating reindeer facts. I would've never guessed, for instance, that the horn of a reindeer is the world's fastest growing bone material.

I could have stayed on and on at the farm, but soon Anu tells me that my taxi has arrived - it's time to leave till we meet again. Before my departure, I grab a tin of reindeer preserve from the shelf to take home, as well as a pair of socks featuring stripe after wonderfully coloured stripe - knitted by a local handicrafts professional. After the purchase is done, Anu escorts me to the door of the kota and we shake hands in farewell. She stands at the door opening, still waving even when the taxi is turning away from the courtyard. I vow to tell of my very successful day to at least a hundred people I know - and emphasize that everyone in Finland should visit these young reindeer farmers at least once in their lives! Personally, I intend to return many times.