Caught by the River

Nick's Pics

Nick Small | 10th October 2012

Sub-Arctic Forest Wilderness. Words & pictures by Nick Small.

The Taiga, a band of sub-arctic forest wraps around the northern hemisphere from Canada, through Scandinavia and to Siberia beyond. It’s one of the Earth’s lungs…with a capacity greater than that of the Amazon rain forest. But what’s it like to be there?

I’m asked this frequently when I talk about Swedish Lapland with friends…though it should really be called Swedish Sapmi. In the winter, that’s easy: it’s frozen. The summer, however, is a different matter so, with photos and a few words, I’ll try to give you a sense of what it’s like to experience this enchanting wilderness.

This vast rhapsody in greens, stretching to the horizon and beyond, is the landscape in a nutshell. The dark green of dense pine forest is only interrupted by the presence of water: rivers, lakes and swamp.

The areas of light green are marshy grasslands, too waterlogged for the trees to grow. If you’ve evolved with long legs, like Elk or Crane, you’ll do just fine here.

The rivers are fertile and beautiful: idyllic like this place and teeming with fish. They feed on the abundant insect life (which will feed on you, should you be brave enough to go angling of an evening).

Here, an altogether different picture. This should be a torrent of white water, with salmon hurling themselves over the obstacle in their thousands.

Alas, much of the water has been diverted to generate hydro-power…leaving the old river almost dry in the summer. Fishing here is free.

Still, opportunist plants have moved in, like this Sundew… a siren, luring passing flies to a sticky end.

Where there’s a lake of any size, that’s where you’ll find people. Not in any great numbers…just tiny hamlets. They may be drawn by the fishing, by the open skies on the edge of the scarcely penetrable forest. I’d like to think it’s the sheer beauty that draws them to make their lives here.

The forest is not immediately inviting: dark, damp and tangled with thick scrub and moss, hiding decades of fallen wood, rocks and ditches. You’ve seen how endless it is. Imagine getting lost in there. This is why the forest is a recurring theme in our shared mythology.

Look closer though. Here amongst the bog rosemary, crowberry, bilberry and horse tail is a cloudberry. You’ve probably never had one and if indeed you haven’t, you’ve also never tasted anything like it. Like the flavour of the Taiga, exotic…unique.

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