Downstairs in the bar, a full range of Lapland characters came out on a recent Wednesday night. Bleary eyed men sat slumped over beers. Young women in perfume and high-heels gathered to laugh and chat. A group of Norwegians were in town to celebrate something. Inari is a Sámi town, on the shore of a many-armed lake of the same name. The arctic circle is some two hundred miles south. There are four different languages spoken in Inari's woods and along the back roads. A man and woman came to set up Karaoke in the bar. When they turned on the machines, a waitress told them to wait a bit - the music was too loud for the regulars. This is the slow-simmering life in Finnish Lapland.
In October, the Arctic days didn't feel too short, but the feeling of darkness approaching had soaked into everything.
Finnish Lapland is also called Sápmi, just as the indigenous Lapp people are known as Sámi in their native tongues. The native people have lived here for thousands of years because their home is extraordinarily rich in food. Even today, fishermen pull sixty pound salmon from the Tana river, and herds of reindeer are kept in the forests and fells. We came across these traditional riverboats up near the border with Norway. Boats like these are used for checking and maintaining the Sámi salmon nets that are strung from trellises in the water. Nowadays, angling is more popular than netting. We passed many signs advertising fishing excursions on the roadsides.
When a house or a gas station does pop up, it's an event. At Kaamasen Kievari, which sits somewhere close to two intersections, a traveler can eat, drink, sleep, gamble, send mail or just get some diesel and coffee. It's not a big place, but it has most of what anybody could need. The menu was heavy on reindeer, most of the daytime crowd was drinking, the sound of slot machines was a quiet constant. The road outside is flat and fast through the trees. If you don't need to stop, there's no reason to slow down.
We stopped the car often to get out and look at one lake or another. Sometimes the water stretched miles into the distance, sometimes it was just a pool in the grass. We got caught up photographing the reflections of trees and rocks. It rained and cleared up. We hoped to see northern lights at night, but there was nothing but darkness and clouds. Lapland in October is a meditation more than experience.