(Here is the latest in my behind-the-scenes blog series. This is a long one – the Kiruna experience was one of our longest and fullest adventures. As always, I advise not reading it until after you’ve seen the episode, which can be viewed here.)
Time to head up North to Lapland! I read on the plane that Kiruna has about 20,000 people living in 20,000 square kilometers. So I pointed out to John that if he moved to Kiruna he could have a square kilometer to himself instead of the square meter he gets in New York. When we were walking around town, Nate, John and I had a pretty fun time talking with each other and even some locals about the whole thing. We kept looking at all the charming small-town features like a turquoise reindeer statue on the side of a building, while throwing our arms out and dramatically saying, “Kiruna, the biggest city… IN THE WORLD!”
The TV Team Challenge
This was a weird one. The best part was looking at all the TV boxes with pictures of Anders’ previous TV shows on them.
There was trouble with the receiver box right off the bat – it wasn’t making any noise at all, regardless of the direction. So the crew had me stop while they fixed the technical difficulties, and we started over again. It was evident right away that the device worked best if you stayed in one place to find the direction, then started moving once you had a bead on which way to go. John articulated it well to his team when he said, “OK stand still, one spot, sweep it and pick your spot.” The pitch got louder when the direction was more accurate. It was a little counterintuitive because the closest experience any of us had was with a metal detector, where the louder pitch means you’re closer to the object. But in this case the pitch indicated direction, not distance. I got back with the first box in under a minute so it seemed like we were off to a good start, though the strap on the control box was so long that it hit my knees if I tried to run, which is why you see me doing that silly speedwalk back to the table. (Consider that my application for Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks.)
Nick went next but once again the device wasn’t making any noise. The crew had us stop again and checked that everything was working. They assured is that it was working correctly this time, and Nick started again. I think that one big factor in the loss was that our initial frustration with the technical difficulties made us really distrustful of the device itself. I remember George looking at me and saying, “You know if we’re having a problem with it, they’re having a problem with it.” I got a bit frustrated that it felt like my team was chalking up our problems to the technology instead of doubling down our efforts and figuring out how to work with the thing.
After the challenge I was pretty angry, hungry, and cold. Hence the word vomit that came out of my mouth – I was trying to take stock of what had happened and learn from the loss but it came across as though I blamed my teammates for it. My team was incredibly gracious about it and didn’t tell me I was being a jerk so I didn’t know that I had rubbed them the wrong way. In fact, I had no idea how badly it came across until I saw myself on TV. I think they knew I just needed to vent and thankfully nobody seemed to take it personally. As embarrassing as that moment is for me to watch I’m actually really glad that I saw it, because I realized how self-centered and egotistical I looked and now I know what NOT to do in the future. It’s really valuable to be able to see yourself in your worst moments from a different perspective – how many times in life do we get to step outside of ourselves and really see how our words affect others?
Moving on… I totally loved the blue team’s cheer. Love me some cheesy cheer action. Speaking of….
The spot where this happened is a little ways down the road from the Icehotel. The Icehotel was not an ice-hotel at the time of course, but at least I can say I’ve seen their parking lot. The moment John suggested we go swimming in that freezing cold water, I was on board. It hadn’t been on my bucket list like it was for him, but there was no way on earth I would pass up that opportunity. Courtney was a little hesitant, poor Texas girl was already freezing, so I give her mad props for coming in with us. And I have sheer respect for Jennette, John, and Nick for going all the way under. I went in up to my neck and lasted about two seconds. I actually felt surprisingly warm once I got out so I just stood on the shore watching John and Nick’s antics for a while. I couldn’t believe it when John actually went BACK in for more.
George, ever the gentleman, had our towels ready for us when we got out. Afterward we were all holding our thumbs that we were staying someplace with a bastu (sauna). I never have really been a sauna person before, but now I really understand the appeal. That night I hung out with Nick in the bastu at our hotel for a good hour talking, just the two of us. That was the first time I really got to talk with Nick one on one. He is incredibly insightful and articulate. I gained so much respect for him that day.
The Sami Village – Årosjokk
Helena of the Jukkasjärvi Sami was very friendly and I liked her immediately – she was obviously very smart and open to answering our numerous questions. She told us that the name of her village was Årosjokk and that in Sami language, the name of lake meant, “The Lake that Shines.” Helena told us that in her culture, things that shine are very special and are associated with the goddess of children. I thought she was very articulate about how even though they don’t actively practice the old Sami religion, the lessons about reverence for nature are still very much a part of their way of life. How beautiful that there is a special word when you cut down a tree, to say “May I take you?” Many people aren’t even so considerate toward our fellow human beings, let alone the trees.
Getting to see Helena’s handmade items was an incredible gift I couldn’t have even hoped for. I’m a knitter and many of the women in my family are seamstresses and crafters, so I was fascinated by her handwork. Helena and I were about the same size so I tried on her shoes, but they were a little big so she put them on Courtney and then the whole dress soon followed. She and Nick made an adorable couple. 🙂
We made a pretty kickass fire. Helena instructed us to make a “fireplace” out of rocks where we would cook our dinner and we took it pretty literally, using the rock-wall building techniques we learned in Småland. Helena came back after teaching the others to lasso reindeer and she seemed pretty impressed! She said, “That is better than I would have done!” We were pretty happy with that assessment. The reindeer dinner was one of the most satisfying meals I’ve ever had. The reindeer cooked on the fire tasted a lot like elk but more tender. Coupled with incredible setting, the good friends and the conversation learning about the Sami way of life, it was beautiful on many levels.
Anders sat us down and told us a few things about the Swedes’ relationship with nature. It’s evident just driving through the country that there’s a huge amount of open space, so it makes sense that the Swedes would identify so strongly with nature and value their right to public access. Anders introduced us to cloudberries (“hjortron”?), and there were also lingonberries which of course I’d eaten many times since arriving in Sweden. He also mentioned chanterelle mushrooms, which I didn’t realize grew in Sweden. We have them here too, on my family’s land that our Swedish ancestors settled. In fact, last month they were in season so we went on our annual fall huckleberry and chanterelle foraging walk:
Forest bounty! Chanterelle and huckleberry season is my favorite. pic.twitter.com/kur44j5Czr
— Katie Malik (@katiemalik) October 12, 2014
I think that allemansrätten is a great thing. In the US we have to work really hard at preserving public lands, and you actually have to pay user fees to access most national and state parks as well as national forest lands. The Swedes on the crew found that concept just as odd as we found it when they would walk us in to the backyard of a random house for our interviews. It seemed very strange to us to just be able to walk, and even pitch tents, on land that was owned by other people. The right of public access feels strange to us and I don’t think it would fly in the United States, but it’s an aspect of Sweden that I didn’t expect and really appreciate.
I could talk about this place all day. I loved it. One morning I went for a walk by myself – really alone, with no cameras or anything (like I had in Pjätteryd) – and found the chapel at the top of a hill. It’s pretty normal for me to take walks and sing to myself, and when I found myself there I stepped up onto that big boulder and took in the 360 degree view. Mountains to one side, the lake shining in the distance on the other. I learned then exactly why the Sami call it “Lake that Shines.” The clouds were just beginning to part and columns of light were hitting the surface, creating a magical silvery glow. The veil of clouds that had lingered over the mountains since we arrived began to melt away as I stood on the rock singing. There are sublime moments and places that leave you awestruck at the beauty of the world, and your place in it. That hill is one of them, and even if you’re not a religious person you still recognize it as powerfully sacred place. I so strongly wished that my husband could be with me to share that moment that I took a picture of my wedding ring hand to show that I was thinking of him.
The cynical people among us will think that the moment there on the rock where I’m singing How Great Thou Art was scripted or premeditated. I can tell you from my heart that it wasn’t. Yes, the camera followed me out there, but it only captured what I had done on my own when I was singing just for myself and the trees. The most powerful moments in life often happen while we’re alone, but I find the joy in life is in the sharing. So I decided to let Sweden share in my moment of inspiration, and I’m glad I did.
Everybody’s beloved brother: Nick Jones
Every group of people has the “buffers” – the ones who by their mere presence help the more difficult personalities to get along. Nick was one of those for us. Everybody got along with him. He says he has a temper but I never saw it. He’s quiet when he needs to be, defuses a tense situation with humor, and is incredibly insightful about other people. I love that during his hometown profile he says he inherited his father’s disdain for authority, and then the next thing you hear is a cheerful, “Hi, mom!”
I was touched by Nick’s family story about his military ancestor, the soldier who lost his family’s home when they left service. Though in America we try not to abandon our soldiers when they leave service, there are still many homeless veterans who fall through the cracks. Most are able to pick themselves up like Nick’s ancestor and make a life for themselves, but many don’t. It’s a story that still persists even all these generations later.
Nick really did want to meet his family, especially after he met his cousin Stefan. John’s comment during the midnight sun about that “spontaneous intimacy” he hoped for between long lost relatives I believe truly applied to Nick and Stefan. Of all the people on the show, I think Nick was one of the ones who really wanted it most. So it was really devastating to us all when he had to leave. He was so appreciative of everything he got to experience, it would have been nice to be able to experience even more with him.
That competition really was hard. I dreamed about it a couple of weeks after I got home. The first words that came out of my mouth when I woke up:
“37 + 11 – 13 + 9 = 44”
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