I do know this journey goes to be particular as quickly as I step into the airport and am greeted by a reindeer.
Properly, not an actual reindeer, after all – although the taxidermy determine perched proudly on the baggage carousel is life-like sufficient to make me gasp. Flanked by a gaggle of tiny, behatted gnomes, cotton-batting snow billows below its hooves. A couple of plastic evergreens loom within the distance, finishing the scene.
No, I’m not within the North Pole, although an elf would mix in right here. I’m in Finland, which you’ll be able to fly to on Finnair, an Alaska World Companion. Mileage Plan members can earn and redeem miles flying right here from a number of U.S. locations, together with nonstop service from San Francisco to Helsinki.
I take a deep breath and step out into the arrivals corridor in Kuusamo. It seems like Christmas. I smile to myself as I hop a cab to my resort.
I shouldn’t have been so stunned on the festive welcome. Kuusamo, a ski resort city situated within the northern a part of the nation, is a mere 120 miles from Rovaniemi, the hometown of Santa Claus. It’s additionally a part of Finnish Lapland, the sparsely populated cultural and geographical area identified for its sub-zero temperatures and idyllic landscapes.
However I’m not right here to go snowboarding or to go to Father Christmas. As a substitute, I’ve come to satisfy some reindeer. Actual ones.
The subsequent morning, at Kujala Reindeer Farm, I lastly get my probability. The day is chilly, a consequence of being solely 40 miles from the Arctic Circle, and I’m chilly. As I step out of my taxi, I remorse not realizing I would want gloves in Northern Finland in August. I shiver as I lengthen my hand to Juha Kujala, the proprietor of the farm, who takes it in his and provides it a agency shake.
Point out Finnish Lapland to somebody within the know they usually’re sure to inform you reindeer herding is each a cultural pastime and a enterprise in these components. The unique herders had been the Sami, an indigenous individuals of Arctic Europe who inhabit northern Norway, Sweden, and Finland.
Nevertheless, ethnic Finns quickly adopted among the Sami’s practices, which had been rooted closely in searching, fishing, buying and selling and reindeer farming. With an estimated 200,000 reindeer within the area, it is smart that the creatures play such an vital position; they’re used for milk, meat, fur, and transportation. Reindeer are a lifestyle in Finland.
Juha, a fifth-generation reindeer herder, has had the farm in his household since 1860, and he’s been aware of the trade since his childhood. It appears there was by no means a query that he would ultimately take over the farm; the career of a reindeer herder usually goes from father to son, and historically, the entire household takes half within the work required to run it. Nonetheless, his ardour for the furry creatures is obvious. This isn’t only a job, however a calling.
Juha leads me into an exquisite stone hut on the property, the place I’m launched to his companion Jenni. Over tea and a crackling fireplace, they inform me that since Jenni joined the farm in 2015, they’ve begun to include reindeer tourism into their choices. Vacationers can take part in reindeer feedings, go reindeer recognizing, or try and herd them below the watchful eye of Juha and his farmhands. And within the wintertime, guests may even take a trip in a sleigh pulled by the lovable creatures.
Juha explains that the every day routines of a herder differ relying on the season. In summer time, although the reindeer are largely allowed to roam free, there’s numerous upkeep work to be executed earlier than the chilly climate hits. This work includes mending fences, making hay for winter, and guaranteeing that the reindeers’ offspring are shielded from predators like eagles, wolverines, and bears. Herders additionally spend a sleepless summer time evening rounding up, counting and earmarking the calves.
After I ask what number of reindeer reside at Kujala farm, my query is met with well mannered resistance.
“Reindeer herders by no means inform the precise quantity of reindeer they’ve,” Jenni tells me, and after I conduct additional analysis in my resort room, I be taught that it’s truly a bit impolite to inquire. Oops.
“We simply say ‘either side of the tree,’” she continues, “which principally means two or extra. Within the wintertime, there are a whole lot of reindeer at residence. Through the summer time, there are only some, as a result of the reindeer belong within the nature, however a few of them may be within the wild all yr spherical. Most discover their method again residence, as a result of they do not forget that we feed them nicely and maintain them protected.”
And that’s a part of the explanation I’m right here. I’ve been informed that I’ll take part in feeding the reindeer, and I can’t wait. When Juha asks me if I’m able to see them, I reply with an enthusiastic “sure.” A lover of furry mammals, I really feel like I used to be born for this second. I hope to sneak in some cuddles… or at the very least a reindeer selfie.
We navigate a discipline with a steep downward slope, and I hobble ungracefully behind my hosts. Quickly, we attain a big grassy clearing. It’s a peaceable, inexperienced panorama, edged by coniferous timber. It’s additionally devoid of residing beings, except for Juha, Jenni, and myself.
“The place are all of the reindeer?” I ask Juha, however he tells me that he’s about to name them. All of a sudden he lets out a loud, brief cry, adopted by one other. It takes about half a second, after which I see them within the distance: about 15 reindeer hurtling in the direction of us at full pace.
Once they attain us, I notice that they differ barely in dimension and in hue. They vary in age from a couple of months to a couple years previous, and whereas most are brownish in coloration, a couple of have coats with giant splashes of ivory.
I quickly uncover that in addition they vary in temperament – and my makes an attempt to feed them hay are rebuffed. That’s, till one calf envelops my fingers together with her slimy lips. She permits me to pet her and I beam internally, feeling like I’m the chosen one. After stroking her coat, I push my luck, reaching as much as contact her antlers. I’m thrilled when she doesn’t run away.
I run my fingers alongside the size of the antlers, stunned to search out they’re lined in fur and smooth, even a bit pliable. After I report my findings to Juha and Jenni, I’m informed that it’s because her antlers are new. Reindeer drop and regrow their “antennae” yearly, making this girl’s present set only some months previous. I take a look at them dumbfounded. I had no thought.
After the reindeer are fed (and I handle to sneak in a reindeer selfie), it’s time to depart. In an e-mail weeks later, Jenni and Juha emphasize that although working the farm is tough work, it’s completely value it.
“We love our reindeer… respecting the character, and taking the very best care of our flock,” they write, noting that it’s rewarding to see the outcomes of their efforts.
“We see the reindeer glad they usually make us glad, too.”