Sunday 11th January
After our day off the temperature remains extremely low. -35. It’s too cold for clients and too cold for the dogs to run the sleds. The dogs shouldn’t run if it’s colder than -30, it’s bad for their lungs and for the pads of their feet. So after the usual chores Lukas suggests we put the 7 older puppies into the kindergarten, a seperate cage that isn’t being used at present. These pups usually live in 2 cages; Grey, Lumi and Beige in one and Ripa, Hilla, Kid and Bang in another. The first are about 9 months and the others 10 months. They are from 4 litters; Grey and Lumi are brothers; Bang, Ripa and Hilla are brothers and sister and Kid and Beige single pups. We get 5 into the kindergarten (all in less Hilla and Kid) but it soon becomes clear that Ripa and Beige (pronounced Beggar) have the traits of their fathers – Polar and Lobo- and really don’t like each other.We have to drag them apart several times. We wait, hoping they will decide to play nicely rather than fight but it’s not to be and we return them to their cage and add Hilla and Kid to the mix. They all play together nicely now the other 2 have been removed but unfortunately someone needs to keep an eye on them and it’s very cold standing around. Tonight Gabi is staying in the cabin on her own; she loves this and would rather this than share the cabin. She’s leaving in a few days so she’s saying her goodbyes. Then I’m staying at the cabin for the next 2 nights with Gabi and then Kate whilst Daz is day working and going back to the apartment each night.
Monday 12th January.
-38. Coldest day so far cold. Usual chores today and it’s still too cold for clients. Lukas suggests we go birch bark collecting. Birch bark is a better fire starter than paper (apparently) and we’re running low on supplies. So off we go, the 4 of us. Kate, Gabi, me and Daz but there’s only one pair of snow shoes so Daz wears them and leads the way but unfortunately we soon realise that they don’t appear to achieve much. Daz seems to sink as much as when he’s without the snow shoes but now he makes a much larger depression and then has to drag the snow shoes up and out. Also they keep unclipping and his foot comes away without snow shoe. Anyway we cross the corner of the lake and enter the wood Lukas pointed us to. Now all we need to do is find birch trees. Most of the trees we see are fir but we soon spot a birch and off we go. Kate and Gabi have done this before and have already gone their own way – bag in hand to collect the bark. Having spotted our tree we wade through deep snow and try to peel off the bark. We only get a few little pieces from it – we think we vaguely remember being told that older trees are best so we struggle on through the snow trying to find more birch trees. We do find a couple of trees where we’re able to peel off quite large pieces but on the whole we spend most of our time wading through the snow wondering if using paper to start fires isn’t a much simpler option. Eventually we find ourselves back on the lake and Gabi and Kate are there too. We make our way back to the cabin stopping to admire the beautiful red\pink sky over the lake. Back at the cabin we compare bark peelings – Gabi has managed to peel really large pieces. We have bark peelings envy!!!!! I later discover the larger pieces come from dead birch trees but Lukas says they won’t burn. We still haven’t proven this.
Today is Gabi’s last day. She’s been here since about mid November. She’s always led us into our maddest exploits (running the pups in a sled and dog walking off piste in deep snow) so we’ll miss her crazy ideas. Heli has gone too – she was the employed horse expert living on the farm. It seems that there was a difference of opinion between her and the bosses and she’s clearly unhappy about leaving. We will miss her. She’s a massive chatterbox and Lukas is supposed to be coaching her in the art of ‘being mysterious’ and therefore more ‘interesting’ is her theory. But she’s crap and is like an open book. One question and you get her life story.
-34 today. No clients again. I get up to light the fires – one in the cabin, one under the bone soup and one under the water trough for the horses. Unfortunately my fires aren’t big enough and the soup starts to refreeze. This is the 4th day of inactivity for the dogs and it really shows at feeding time – the dogs go crazy. Usual chores but Daz drove the day workers here today; he is being groomed for something special I suspect. Time will tell. Today we decide to walk the pups; Grey, Lumi and Beige. Kate takes Grey, Daz Lumi and me, Beige. Grey is by far the best behaved and is out on the track first. Daz follows but when he finally connects the leash to the waist harness, the leather leash snaps. By this time I’m also on the road and Beige is howling and crying and twisting in the harness; he doesn’t like being behind other dogs. Kate keeps walking with Grey and whilst I stop to help Daz with his snapped leash I fail to realise that Beige is getting so frustrated with the delays that he manages to back our of the harness. He’s loose. I give chase but fortunately he only runs to the bitches cage and I manage to catch him, and reharness him. Back on the track we start walking but Beige is still howling and yelping. He’s not happy! We have another problem with Lumi and his leash and once again, when I assist, Beige escapes and this time runs away towards Kate. I give chase but fortunately Kate manages to hold him. Now that we’ve caught up with Kate we try Beige as lead dog and at last there’s peace. We continue until we reach the end of the track and decide to continue to the lake and back to the farm. But there’s deep snow and it seems Beige isn’t too clever at leading in this. Instead of jumping ahead he starts to run round me, occasionally spreadeagling himself in the deep snow and looking at me as if to say, ” Doh! are you kidding me, why couldn’t we stay on the track?”. Soon Daz takes the lead with Lumi and he understands what’s expected of him (Lumi, not Daz!) and we soon return to the farm unscathed with all the dogs still in our possession (thank god!)
We have a new arrival today. Lukas is showing him the farm. He’s Rob from the Netherlands. Young, tall and skinny with long ‘fairy’ hair and beard he looks like Thor, but without the muscles and good looks.
Wednesday 14th January
Only – 14 today. Rob and Daz are night farming now, changing out with Kate and Maria. In fact Rob is doing the next 4 nights. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end. There are 2 Italian groups expected today. We start early. Pick up from the apartment 8am. When we get to the farm we help finish the dog poo pick up. We’re expecting 8 clients for the long sled ride so we start preparing 4 teams. Rob is learning the process. We have 4 sleds prepared but Erkki arrives with the first group and there are only 6. We have to return the 4th team to the holding line, less harnesses. The guests are ready and Kate and I do the anchors and Daz releases the holding rope. The teams are off. They’ll be gone for about 1.5 hours. Maria is preparing the Lavuu and the sausages for their return. Daz is picking up the 2nd group of Italians for the short tour and has to leave. So off we go for a quick brew and we’ll probably do some horse poo whilst we’ve got some free time. Daz arrives with the 2nd group. There are only 7 of them. He has to show them the farm and entertain them until the first group is back (at no stage does he show them his arse, too cold he says!). We see the first group returning. They aren’t coming from the direction we’d expect, mad rush and small panic but we are ready when they slide in. We take the sleds from the guests, turn them around for the next group and go and fetch the 4th team. During the first run the deep snow made it really hard going for the dogs and they are already tired. There were also some reindeer out on our track. Fortunately the guests controlled their teams by keeping the brakes on whilst Erkki chased the deer away. It has been known for the dog teams to chase the reindeer. We are soon ready for the second group. Lukas is driving one sled and I’m going on the back of Erkki’s skidoo. We have a good run but the dogs are tired and Lukas at the back with a fresh team has to keep his brake on for most of the circuit. We’re done. We feed the dogs and then return them to their kennels. Today Horse Satu, Maria and I take 3 horses for a walk to the end of the road and back and then groom them before releasing them into the paddock. Kate, who has Ben our tutor for the past week leaves the farm today. She is going to the other farm in Karigasniemi, 100km to the north. She’s talking as if we won’t see her again. More mysterious goings on! I used to think sharing of information in the Army was poor but now I have a basis for comparison. Everything here is a secret including the work schedule. Remember: knowledge is power!!!!!
Maria and I go back to the apartment. Ola has invited us to Villa Lanca for dinner. We (Maria, Gabi and I) go over and once we establish that the coast is clear run back for some wine which includes the bottle Daz had bought for 30th January, to drink to our last day in the Army, soz Daz!! After dinner we go to PaPaNa’s (local bar, the only one! Also serves pizza, yum!) to meet Heli. It’s a good night and very entertaining – we chat to a pissed reindeer owner\herder trying to persuade him to loan us 3 reindeer for the reindeer race meet in April where you have to ski behind your galloping reindeer, sounds like fun! I think Maria’s charm should work but he’s so pissed he probably won’t remember.
Thursday 15th January.
Late start today. 10am pick up. Gabi’s off at 10 too. She’s flying home to Zurich. -12 today, so the dogs canrun, but we have no clients booked. Today we take photos of Lucy’s 5 puppies. They’re about 5/6 weeks old now and for the last 4 days or so they’ve been coming out of their kennel and are now eating solid food – we soak their kibble in warm water which they seem to like. As soon as we bring food there’s one pup who’s always first there. I’ve nickname him ‘fat fuck’. Lukas is unimpressed and wants to call him ‘Aunty’ – this is a Finnish name and I’ve probably misspelt it but it sounds like Aunty. I’m going to call him Aunty Fat Fuck, or Aunty 2 Fs or Aunty F squared. We have to do a rogues gallery. Produce pictures of the pups and then Erkki will decide names from the short list Lukas has drawn up. I wanted to call the bitch ‘Daisy’ but the British name contributions of Daisy and Fat Fuck has been dissed massively. And Aunty is such a good name????!!!!!!
All 5 come out today and they are checking us out. Licking and biting our fingers. They are so cute!!! (Except for the one with poo on his head after he got too close to one of his siblings during a toilet moment, bizarrely our further name contribution of ‘Shithead’ is frowned upon in typical Lukas fashion. Who said the Germans don’t have a sense of humour, neither do the Swiss so it seems!)
Today we’re doing some sled training. It’s for us (the volunteers) and for the older pups. First we take out Beige,Lumi and Grey. We put Lobo in front with Beige. He has his own team so we’re hoping he’ll knock these young pups into shape. We get everything set up but Lumi and Grey both back out of their harnesses. But then we’re ready. Lukas drives first and we’re staying on the road instead of taking them onto the lake. Daz has run off to the junction 700 meters away to help turn them around. And they’re off. Lukas disappears and Maria, Rob and me wait. It’ll be a while. They’ll need to turn the team at the other end but soon Daz comes round the corner driving them back towards us. We turn the team and Maria drives them back to Lukas and then they’re back. That’s it for the time being,can’t do too much as they are still young and growing so we pack everything away. Maria needs to help with the horses. Horse Satu wants to do a practice run in preparation for Friday when she has 20 horse clients. Maria and Satu put Rangwald into the horse box and drive him to Inari. They tack him up with the sled and take him out on to the lake. Ola is out for the ride and boss Satu teaches Maria how to drive the sled. Later in the afternoon we take the other pups out on the spring sled. This time there’s no trained dog to show them the way but with Lukas they’re far better behaved than when we took them out. He truly is a dog whisperer. We do a couple of runs with Rob, me and Lukas driving.
Friday 16th January.
I’ve got a day off but Daz is at work. I’m going into Ivalo with Ola once I’ve put the laundry on (the laundry is about 10 minute walk away!) We’ve decided to hitch because a couple of people have told us it’s easy in Finland and despite the scarcity of traffic we get a lift in about 10 minutes. They are Sami people and Ola enjoys practising her Finnish on them. Not much in Ivalo but there’s more life, traffic and people than Ola’s seen for 5 weeks.
We check out the second hand shops and then have a coffee. The main reason for the visit is to buy alcohol because I drank the celebratory bottle and we can’t buy wine in the Inari supermarkets. Shopping done and we head home. Again we don’t wait long for a lift – from a professional fisherman. He fishes in the lakes using nets; catching trout and white fish. Safely home I get back in time to meet Daz who has returned from his 2 nights away and let him know he is cooking dinner tonight for me and Ola… Well it is my day off! Catch you all again soon x