Caught by the River

Postcard from Lapland

16th August 2010

from Nick Small.

A super-volcano under the house, hotel rooms in tall trees, exploring for gold and fishing: well it certainly hasn’t been dull in the Boreal Forest this year.

Kent Lindvall runs Fishing North , whilst his wife Britta has her homely, 1930/50 styled guest house in Harads, Swedish Lapland. When the forest behind the guest house was destined for the timber yard, they figured there had to be a more constructive use for it. So, inspired by the Swedish film “Tradalskaren” (Tree Lovers), a plan was hatched to create a series of tree house rooms that people could stay in.
Britta and Kent are a bit mad, and certainly not your average boutique hotel owners, but with the help of a few architects like Bertil Harstrom, and a large team of willing collaborators, they have pulled it off. For me and my seven year old lad, the lure of these crazy capsules in the canopy was impossible to resist.

We arrived in Harads with slightly heavy, though relieved, hearts. Mum had stayed behind to attend our daughter and her unborn baby, their lives threatened by severe pre-eclampsia. Just before we rolled up, she phoned with the news that surgical delivery had gone as well as could be hoped (at only 27 weeks) and that both daughter and granddaughter were doing ok. Thank you, God that I don’t believe in.

Britta hugged us like old friends, and after a quick drink we were marched off by her daughter Sofia, a blond mohican stuntwoman, up through meadows and forest to The Cabin. From the outside, it’s an oblong pod, high in the pines. A walkway took us from the hillside onto the roof…it’s a treehouse with a roof terrace…cool, or what? We dropped down into the capsule itself by steep steps. Inside there’s a comfy double bed and a huge window, with far reaching views over the Lulea River valley.
After the obligatory 5 minutes of bed diving, given an added frisson of jeopardy in what is effectively a big birch bird box, we settled down on the over-sized cushions to gaze out through the glass.

Dinner down at Britta’s was Moose Balls, the comedy of which was appreciated by Oscar. The juniper berry sauce was delicious…truly a forest dish. We ate with Bertil and his builders: fine fellows all and got a tangible sense that they were as excited by building the tree rooms as we were about staying in them.

The schlep back up to the Cabin was fraught with the peril of being eaten alive in the twilight….not by bears, but by the mosquitoes. Once inside the tree room though, we took in the wonderful views, with reddening skies, and went to sleep in the ludicrously comfy bed. By 3 am I was wide awake, in broad daylight, so while Oscar slept, I read, took photos and wrote stuff.

For the second night of our stay, we moved to the Mirrorcube. It has been featured as an artist’s rendering in publications the world over….and amusingly, it was billed ahead of Barrack Obama on CNN. The renderings don’t do it justice…at 4 metres cubed, it’s a big old unit. From one angle it presents a big shiny square of sky against a backdrop of tall spruce. From other angles, it completely disappears. We clambered up the rope bridge to get in, and found it to be tardis like on the inside: huge, and lined with the vague patterns of birch ply. Even the furniture is birch ply: classics by Alvar Aalto…designed in the 1920s, but somehow totally at home in a modern cube. We spent ages looking out of the big picture windows, hoping that the “you can see out, but they can’t see in” effect would deliver us the sight of an Elk, or a bear. But we drew a blank and slept.

After a Sauna with the building team, complete with beers and slivers of cured Elk, we said our goodbyes, heading South towards our own house in the forest. A brilliant start to our holiday, and pretty much unforgettable….as much for the lovely people and their bonkers vision, as the big tick we both had in the “slept in a treehouse” box.

Then things started to get weird. Queuing for a burger in Skelleftea I became aware of voices speaking English….a rare thing indeed in these parts. Within minutes we were sitting around a table with fast food, and a family of South African gold prospectors: or Junior Explorers as they prefer to be known. This doesn’t mean they are young, it just means that they are the Indie Labels of the gold mining world. Oscar buggered off with their two young boys to play, whilst I discovered that our house, some 60 miles away, actually sits on the resurgent dome of a huge Caldera, or super-volcano.

It was last naughty about 1.8 billion years ago, and the landscape has since been much altered by two kilometres of glacial ice, but still, this was pretty exciting news. Volcanoes are good “boy stuff”. Whilst getting a crash course in geology, it transpired that these modern pioneers have literally gambled the lot on moving lock, stock and kitchen sink to the inhospitable North in the hope of finding gold just a few miles south of our place. Huzzah! I’m rich. I thought.

But no, I’m not. I’m still poor. It turns out that all that pesky glacial ice has shifted a lot of the good stuff downhill, and what’s left is mostly under a thick layer of forest or swamp. It won’t stop me checking the pebbles on the beach by the lake though.

So we spent the usual days, fishing, idling by the camp fire, watching the sun not go down, listening to the loons and wondering where the new batch of 3,500 trout they have just put in our lake are hiding. Not one was caught during the whole fortnight.

Then we got a call. A helicopter will be arriving to conduct a geo-magnetic survey, more or less in our back yard, scanning the bedrock under the swamp for geographic anomalies and fault lines, where maybe….just maybe…a few grams of gold stuff might be hiding in each ton of rock. Would we like to go and watch?

So we did. We hiked through primordial forest to an exposed hilltop where a big white rock made of billion year old pyroclastic material, proved to be a splendid picnic table. We found a dollop of fresh poo, like a human turd, but big and dyed blue by berries…conclusive proof that bears do indeed…well, you know. I just hoped they didn’t fancy a picnic too.

We watched as a helicopter, dangling a huge “ring piece” (Viz fans), laden with GPS, Geo-Magnetic and Electromagnetic sensors, scanned the landscape for clues.
It occurred to me that this was like fishing…but on a very expensive scale. Chris, the geologist, was simply looking at the water, surveying the currents, checking the fly hatch, assessing the bubbles of marsh gas, scoping the reed beds and the gravel spits, scanning for the likely lairs of very big fish before dangling his bait rather hopefully into the depths….or drilling, as he might call it.

It turns out that he’s not alone. The area is now wick with gold explorers: latter-day prospectors. Our refuge in the wilderness is smack in the middle of Sweden’s answer to the Klondike…or the Yukon. Although it’s not going to benefit me directly, I’m quite pleased. It offers some hope to a region that is dying on its arse, with young people leaving for the cities, and the older folks struggling to earn a crust.

I had to leave the scene, but Oscar stayed with his friends. A few hours later, the phone rang again. “The chopper has finished its work, Can Oscar go for a ride?”
Although the prospect scared me, and I’d just come close to losing one child and her baby…I had to say yes.

The jammy little sod. So now I now have a new worry. After he’s had a holiday like that, it’s going to be a tough ask to top it next year.

Post Script: Grandaughter Layla, a battling tyke, now weighs 1lb 11oz, and is in the care of our marvellous NHS. Her tiny veins, punctured by needles and tubes, are worth more than any veins of gold the volcanic mush could offer.

Read previous articles by Nick Small.