My Saami Walking Stick…

…was a subject for comment today, as we were preparing to jump into Jeppe and take a walk on Houss, the southern point of East Burra, Shetland. A local resident came by and, as I was putting my walking stick in the vehicle, the person said something like, “Well, ya taking your spear with ya?” My first thought was, “Spear? What spear?”, but understanding that he didn’t know about it, I quickly mentioned it was a Saami style walking stick.

Afterwards, I felt it was high-time I wrote about a Saami walking stick. Perhaps other Shetlanders, who see me walking around with it in my hand on walks, or a portion of Swedish or international readers, would find this topic interesting. The walking stick and its use has been superbly developed by the Saami for thousands of years. So, let’s take time to explore the wonders of, what I call, the Saami walking stick.

Photo: In the Swedish mountains, the Saami walking stick means safety and friendship when alone

Photo: In the Swedish mountains, the Saami walking stick means safety and friendship when alone

Construction and Use
Basically, the material is birch. Birch has the qualities of an intertwining fiber, making it exceptionally strong, and considerably lightweight when dried. When choosing a stick, one wants a young tree specimen, as uniform in thickness along its length as possible, but thick enough to support the weight of its user plus the weight of a backpack. It should be as straight as possible with few branches, so it isn’t so knotty or rough. When these ingredients are had, the total length defined should be at least a little more than the length of its user.

Since birch is abundant in northern Sweden, it can be smart to choose several walking stick specimens until you understand and recognize what is best for you. If needed, ask permission from the landowner.

Once chosen, you will shave the birch bark off the stick. This helps with the drying process. A new green walking stick will be soft and flexible. After removing the bark, it will dry and become stiffer and harder during the summer. Also, cut and smooth away the branch parts. This should leave the stick smooth and allow your hands to glide along the length of it.

Once made, the Saami Walking stick is to be carried, either in a hand or cradled like a rifle, and used to give support to the upper weight of the user with a backpack or when wading across deep rushing streams, which is why it should be a little longer than the user. The thicker end of the stick points downwards as you use it. This allows for a more gentle swing, weight at bottom, with a back to front movement. It is to be used to keep balance on stones or uneven ground to prevent slipping or twisting an ankle, which can be a life or death situation when in the Swedish mountains.

The stick is not supposed to be used as an “elbow warmer”. In other words, it isn’t supposed to be held upright in your hand and mark-off every other step as you’re walking/hiking. You can shift hands or positions while hiking. Should you twist an ankle, the walking stick can be your “third leg” to safety. So, take care of it as a good friend.

On Shetland
Now, Why did I take a Saami walking stick to Shetland? Well, there are a few good reasons.

Shetland doesn’t have any trees and there isn’t anything natural around to lean up against. My Saami walking stick allows me something to lean and rest on at shoulder height. It often helps me keep balance as I walk the countryside, since I look around a lot and not pay attention to the ground. Shetland is littered with hundreds of rabbit holes half-hidden in the grass. I also have use for it as a portable monopod when I use my binoculars or camera instead of finding a suitable rock to crouch down at. My walking stick is 2 mt and I can use it as a measuring tool.

Photo: Whale Wick, with its cliffs and jagged rocks, is one example of Shetland's coastline

Photo: Whale Wick, with its cliffs and jagged rocks, is one example of Shetland's coastline

And finally, I knew that Shetland has a shoreline of rocky cliffs with strong winds. So, besides the function of making walks or climbing easier, I wanted the safety of a three-point base when near the edge of Shetland cliffs during wet windy weather. Don’t want an unnecessary newspaper article, do we? .

So, anybody out there wondering why I carry a “spear” around with me, it’s O.K! I understand. I just know that I’m in safer hands with my Saami walking stick than if I was without, and I’m glad that the chances of getting hurt or falling while walking alone are less when I carry it with me.

Ocean Garbage…

…is a fact that inlanders hardly are aware of. Possibly, when visiting a coastline during vacation, through a television program or the isolated article in the local newspaper, people living away from salty shores may get a small insight of all the refuse and waste that exists in the oceans. It wasn’t until I started walking the shores along Shetland that the variety and amount of floating scrap became apparent, and I earlier wouldn’t or couldn’t conceive how the world is polluting the seas until coming to this tiny group of Atlantic islands.

And, the garbage is very real! While taking walks along a nearby part of Shetland’s shores, the beachcomber comes out in me. Eyes pointed downwards, I search the deposits of freshly washed up kelp for some special seashell, piece of wood, hunk of amber or rare maritime artifact but, after a short time, realize that a large percentage of beached debris is manmade polyethylene.

The garbage becomes more apparent as I glance higher up along the beach or shore, where many years of accumulated crap can be found. It’s mind-boggling with the ropes and netting material, plastic containers and water bottles that are pushed on shore or slowly disappearing into the sands. One distressing thought is the seals, dolphins or birds that can, and do, get tangled into this junk.

Occasionally, I can consider who’s to blame for this mess. It isn’t Shetland’s fault that somebody else’s garbage blows up on its shoreline! It’s hardly the fault of the people visiting the beaches, though in some cases the odd soda can or forgotten shoe can be had. And, can one really blame the ships or fishing vessels out to sea, when fighting heavy winds as their fishing nets are torn away or loose equipment wash overboard?

If I remember right, about three times more garbage is thrown into the seas than the amount of fish taken. And, there is so much debate about EU fishing quotas and so little said about keeping the ocean clean…? It just seems baffling. Where are the champions for keeping our oceans clean?
Photo:Meal Beach

In an attempt to suggest something positive, I want to highlight that Shetland sets aside time and money to clean-up its shores. Each year, residents are invited to participate in a road and shore clean-up and literally hundreds take time to handpick scrap off of the beaches etc. The council provides and allocates funds for pick-up and hauling of the collected garbage.

I think this is commendable! Both the council and especially the volunteers need to be patted on their backs for this great effort. Unfortunately, the crap keeps blowing in from the seas at a regular pace and almost defeats the purpose.

Think, if more and more of us would refuse using non-degradable polyethylene where possible? One idea that I try to practice, is to pick-up some beach scrap and carry it home for disposal each time I go for a walk. Think if everyone did this as they visit Shetland’s shoreline? Could be a great habit and good idea?

Here It Has Stood…

This, the soldier of strength,
This, the gatekeeper of Mousa Sound.
This, the sentinel of Shetland
Watching over its destiny… its past.
No lime, nor cement, nor earth, sand and water.
Dry stone built, with precision and intent.

Thirteen meters of ancient architecture…
The wind still whistles around its kiln-like tower
And the rains still cut into its moss covered shell
The sun still pushes on its back, its side, its front
And it still stands as it has…for 20 centuries

The shadows who gave it birth,
Who breathed life into it,
Stone after stone after stone
Worn, heavy with sweat and anticipation
Are nearby, yet, have journeyed onwards… elsewhere.

This tower, this broch of Mousa Isle
Solid, daring, watching, remembering
So many, many lives
Once warming, once sheltering…protecting
Now tolerant, patient, reliant
Inviting in its secrets
Forever, standing guard over its waters

Snow Conditions in Lapland…

…this year was something I reported on earlier. At that time I mentioned how much and how heavy the snowfall had been.
Now, as we approach the middle of April, I can stoutly announce that this winter has been exceptional with snowfall. Snow depths around Jokkmokk can reach up to 1.3 meters (appx. 4 ft 3 in) and, last weekend, when everyone was relaxingly believing that spring warmth was finally approaching and the roads were all dry and free from snow, we got hit with 35 cm (appx. 1 ft) of snow in one night!

resize-of-dsc_0154.JPGPhoto: Thank God for snowblowers!

Many in Jokkmokk are commenting on the snow amount and depth and many are running out of space for snow removal reasons. Should we get a whopping load of sunshine and heat and should the snow melt rapidly, there could be a real risk of unusual flooding this spring due to the amount of snow and the ground being frozen.

Summarizing, snow is no longer very “romantic” anymore.

Do you need a guide…

…to hike in Laponia? Probably a good question this time of the year as many are working on vacation plans for this summer. And, when you think of the costs for guided tours as well as personal equipment and costs to get to Jokkmokk, it would be wise to think double hard about guide services.

tarrapath04.jpgPhoto: A small group of hikers crossing Palkat Stream in the Tarra Valley

The background to so-called “Laponia Guides” is that, after close to 10 years of doing nothing more than erecting a few signs, Jokkmokk and Gällivare municipalities had to market and advertise “Laponia” in order to sustain, or at best, create new income areas within tourism. Through EU project fundings, the Laponia Group was created to get the ball rolling. A few people were employed in this temporary project group. A website was created, and a course in “Laponia guiding” was started, where participants would receive an “official Laponia guide” diploma. (It should be added here that this project doesn’t exist anymore and people are grappling for new ways to make an income)

Participants in these courses were mostly motivated to attain diploma status, a status to prove a person’s knowledge of Laponia and give them a “legitimacy” with guiding, but the participants had very little, if any, experience in dealing with people or even quality time in Laponia to such a degree that locals would almost feel uncomfortable. I feel it was like start-a-business-and-hope-to-learn-on-the-way. One can ask, does a diploma make a person a guide and does this diploma signify quality?

But, everyone was happy. It was a win-win situation. Long-term unemployed people could start new businesses as tour guide operators and the Laponia project could show they actually did something other than warm chair seats.

The key thought with all this is that, since the end of the 19th century, people have been hiking in Laponia without needing a guide! So, Why need guides now? The answer is probably to satisfy the egos of community leaders, possibly create a new market saving communities from financial decline and to instill a belief that visitors are incapable to hike in Laponia without this…uh…guide person.

If you want to go hiking in Laponia, all you need is some equipment, a little knowledge with map reading, some experience with tenting, an eye on weather conditions, being out in the bush and… plain old common sense! Just follow the paths. Not hard, eh?

resize-of-churchcoffeestalo01.jpgPhoto: Laponia hikers at the yearly church services at Staloluokta. WHICH ONE IS THE GUIDE?

What people need is extra equipment. Like a kajak or canoe. What Laponia needs is an outfitter…they don’t need people portraying themselves as guides and who need a yearly income to be able to live in the area. If anything, beginner Laponia hikers need a few hours of common sense talking with an experienced Laponia hiker and…off they can go.

With a correct frame of mind, investigations and planning of a hiking trip and some risk management, most people don’t need to follow in the footsteps of a guide to enjoy Laponia. Most people shouldn’t want to shell-out between 12,500 SEK (£1,034)-16,500 SEK (£1,328) extra to follow after these guides and most people should need to use their savings for travel costs, basic equipment and food needed to get so far north. It’s all a bit of a scam, really, for people to fall for.

If people need anything, it is the confidence to not be so easily led to believe they need a guide to hike in Laponia! Think about this!

“Lampik Executed for Murder”…

…would have been the appropriate headlines if there had been a newspaper in Jokkmokk in 1823. A journalist would have been one of twenty or so men, women and children that were ordered to watch the execution of Påhl Larsson Lampik, for the murder of his older sister Lotta (Lohtsa) Påhlsdotter Lampik just a year earlier, and he would have reported these details for any readers. The execution took place east of “Death Pond” in Jokkmokk, February 17, 1823.

According to the court records of the time, Påhl Larsson Lampik, a short 4 ft. 3½ in. (1.42 mt) 25 year-old, believed to be a “weak” person, having learning difficulties and known for a rowdy behaviour, was left at home with his sister. The father, Påhl Lampik, had skied to the winter market in Jokkmokk. Thrity-two year old Lotta Påhlsdotter, quick to learn, honest and respectful had charge of attending the reindeer and sheep.

When the father returned from market, Sunday the 24th of February, niether Påhl Larsson Lampik nor Lotta Pålhsdotter could be found. Reindeer and sheep were unattended and there were several storage houses broken into with things scattered all over the snow covered ground.

With the aid of a local official, the father searched the area. After a couple of days of light snowfall, it was somewhat difficult looking for signs of anyone, but they finally found Lotta Pålhsdotter face down in the snow by a fishermen’s hut near a frozen lake. Påhl Lampik and the official brushed the snow off her body, turned her over and found that her hair was matted with frozen blood from several deep cuts in her head. They took her body to a neighbouring house when, afterwards, Påhl Lampik skied to Jokkmokk and told constable C. M. Granström what had happened.

The constable sent out requests concerning the whereabouts and detention of Påhl Larsson Lampik. Apparently, Påhl Påhlsson Lampik had been seen and held by Johan Petter Chrisophersson, Tjauruträsk, near Gällivare. Lampik was sent back to Jokkmokk for questioning, was arrested for murdering his sister and went to trial March 28, 1822.

During the trial, witnesses explained how Lotta Pålsdotter was found, how her skull had been violently split in five places, that a couple of these cuts had gone deep into the brain, and that she had a large cut on her left arm. She obviously died instantly. (It can be noted here that the autopsy was conducted by a surgeon E.M.Waldenström, Luleå, who had taken 7 days using three horses to get to Jokkmokk and charged the court a little more than 44 Swedish Kronor for his services.)

When Påhl Larsson Lampik was summoned to witness, he explained that on the morning of Feb. 18, Lotta and he went out to gather hay and to feed the animals when they started to argue. He became angry and left his sister. He went back to the village, where he forced open all the storage houses, stole a reindeer steak and some flour and went to the Lampik “hut” and started to make dinner for himself.

After this, Lotta Påhlsdotter apparently returned to their “hut” and became angry. Påhl Larsson Lampik entered into a struggle with his sister and, after grasping the small ax his sister was known to carry in her belt, hacked his sister in her head several times killing her.

He stayed in the village that evening and the next morning, after letting loose the sheep and killing one lamb for food, tried to escape towards Luleå. After reaching Harads, he changed direction towards Gällivare, where he was captured by Christophersson.

Påhl Larsson Lampik had earlier been convicted of reindeer theft and punished with being placed in irons, strapped to a pole and given 12 whiplashes. At his murder trial, he explained his deed as being under the control of “evil powers” and was not to blame for killing his sister. And, he added, he was only defending himself because his sister had hit him.

The court found him guilty of murdering Lotta Påhlsdotter and sent Lampik to the regional prison until he would be summoned back to Jokkmokk for execution.

In 1823, almost a year after his trial, Lampik was transported back to Jokkmokk and the winter market, together with an executioner. February 16th, he was locked in a small timbered shed, east of “Death Pond” and near the road from Luleå at the top of a hill overlooking the Lule River Valley.

The next morning, February 17th, all the men, woman and children of Jokkmokk were forced to attend the execution as witnesses that murder would not be accepted in Jokkmokk. A small, probably very cold and scared Påhl Larsson Lampik was taken from the shed towards the chopping block where, after laying his head down, he was beheaded by the executioner’s ax. Rumor has it that it took two ax swipes before Lampik’s head was severed from his body.

Påhl Larsson Lampik’s head and body parts were nailed up on poles along the old road from Luleå to warn people of the consequences for murder. These body parts hung there for several months and were finally taken down and buried in the grounds nearby. Murderers were not allowed to be buried in “blessed” churchyards.

resize-of-re-exposure-of-dsc_0377.JPGPhoto: “Exectution Hill” as you approach central Jokkmokk along Rt 97 from Luleå-Boden

In Jokkmokk, the place of execution is somewhere at the top of the small hill, which the road from Luleå follows as one approaches the central part of Jokkmokk. Still today, people in Jokkmokk always refer to this slope as “Execution Hill”.

References: Tingsprotokoll, Jokkmokks Dombok 1822
Norrbottens Hembygd för Tidskrift 1924, Häft 3
Döds- och Begravningsboken 1823, sid 60 rad 3

PS- Sorry this was late coming. I had/have very much to do just now. My apologies!