Caught by the River

Nick's Pics

Nick Small | 20th October 2010

Lapstrake in Lapland. Words & picture by Nick Small.

The Byske River, just as it meets the brackish waters of the Gulf of Bothnia, that narrow finger of the Baltic that separates Sweden from Finland. Beneath the beguiling blue calm, thousands of migrating Salmon set their sat nav for the hills, hell bent on procreation and the frustration of over optimistic anglers along the rugged forested banks.

A rich source of vitamin D, Salmon flesh is an important food for people denied the sun’s rays for much of the year. Where survival rather than sport is the name of the game, a net and a boat bypass the vicissitudes of casting flies with a rod.

And what a boat this is: a casual monument to the creative forces of necessity, nature and nurture. Lapstrake or clinker built, a product of the forest, formed with function in mind, but sculpted by the eye of an artist. Beautiful lines from beautiful pines. It has been liberally lathered in tar, coaxed by fire from swamp gathered pine roots…the oils which nature designed to protect the living tree from rot being the best waterproofing in the timber afterlife.

Folk arts and crafts aren’t some heritage industry in Swedish Lapland, and nor are they an experiment in Ray Mears living. They are part of the fabric of a place where things have to be made, because they can’t be bought. Every Loppis (second hand shop) is full of turned and carved wooden artefacts, hand crafted textiles and naïve paintings…usually signed by the hand that created them decades ago. Much furniture is made in the woodshed, and although IKEA is invasive, it doesn’t have the staying power of Grandad’s rough and rustic shaker-esque masterpieces, crudely painted in glossy reds and grey.

This boat encapsulates many of these things I love about life in the Boreal Forest. There’s the contrast between the finesse of its form, and the blunt functionality of the oars. There’s the casual way in which it is simply beached and abandoned, not even tethered. Any upstream rain storm, or wind to break up the surface, would see this boat loose, and at the mercy of the elements. It is in its place and of its place: a product of the environment and somehow, still perfectly at one with its surroundings. I love it.

See previous Nick’s pics here.