Natalia explained to us. "Mine was one no one wanted." She owned some reindeer (of course, we didn't ask how many) at one point. Her earmark pattern was simple enough that it could easily be turned into another. So, one by one, her reindeer began to disappear. Finally, she sold them off before she had none left. "I knew who it was and was mad for a while. But it is all a part of it." She told us of the skill involved with knowing exactly where to find every one of your reindeer depending on the wind, the surface of the snow, how old they are. The Sámi have hundreds of words for 'reindeer,' including one for each year of a reindeer's life.
Only around 10% of today's Sámi count reindeer husbandry as their primary source of income. That doesn't make the animals any less important, though. Tourism in Lapland depends a lot on people wanting to come up and see Dasher and Dancer et al. At our homestay, Natalia told us about Spaniards zipping around on snowmobiles they'd never ridden before, trying to find some reindeer. "I was running around with a first aid kit." Other guests think that going right up to one and petting it is a good idea. "They even think they can ride them!" Most tourist material for the area involves snowmobile and dog-sled tours to go out and spot some reindeer. Thankfully, absolutely nowhere is there the opportunity to go out on a hunt. I was happy to see some of the beautiful animals, even if they were just fleeting glances. And, at night, I even dreamed of reindeer (though our pillowcases may have had something to do with that).