The area of Swedish Lapland that surrounds Abisko National Park is incredibly beautiful and depending the day, it can feel like your own personal wilderness. This has led me to wonder what wilderness really means to different people.
I was guiding a group for Lights Over Lapland yesterday on a tour that’s called the “Wilderness Aurora Photo Adventure”. We had gone out for about 20 minutes on a sled which was pulled by a snowmobile and were heading for a frozen marshland to photograph aurora. The journey itself had included a little extra excitement as we’d found one area that of trail where deep snow had blown across the track, resulting in the guides and the guests having to dismount the sled briefly and walk a few meters along the trail, allowing the snowmobile to get through the snow while pulling less weight. As is usually the case, the guests had found exhilaration and joy in this unexpected adventure and all seemed to find a sense of pleasure watching our team use their skills to easily extract the snowmobile. For an Arctic guide like myself, this is part and parcel of working in the north but for many of my guests this sort of addition is an exciting glimpse into a completely different lifestyle.
When we arrived at the site the guests all started taking photographs and were appreciating the surroundings of glistening white snow, sub-Arctic Birch trees, majestic mountains and wide open spaces. At one point, later in the evening I spoke to two separate people, one from Singapore and one from England who were not taking many photographs despite the scenery. When I asked them if I could assist or answer any questions for them, they both said the essentially the same thing to me – they were at peace and simply enjoying the tranquillity and silence of being in a real Arctic wilderness.
In their busy lives back home they just didn’t have the time or the opportunity to listen to nothing and to just experience stillness and quietness. This is one of the things that I think makes Abisko National Park, the Arctic in general, and our trips into the wilderness so special. In this day of jet travel roaring trains, automobiles, cell phones and notifications from countless apps designed to help us communicate the silence that can only be found in a genuine wilderness is often a luxury that most of the population never get to experience.
On returning home it was also quiet. One of my guide colleagues has gone on a skiing trip which for him means cross-country (Nordic) skiing out into the mountains for a few days and nights armed with a backpack, a tent, a map, a satellite phone, food and a lot of energy. For him, wilderness means going to places that are miles away from anyone else, to places that few people ever visit and which probably see many times more moose and reindeer in a year than people. Pretty hard-core wilderness if you ask me!
And so, it seems to me that wilderness means different things to different people. For some it’s just any place where there’s lots of nature, different scenery and a level of quietness that is unusual and quite alien to their everyday lives. For some it means a long trip away from everyone and everything, and for some (like me) it means going somewhere that feels a bit wild and almost on the edge of my comfort zone, but from which I can return to an area of civilisation fairly easily.
What has been a pleasure for me this aurora season is being able to see other people experiencing their wilderness (in whatever form) and seeing the positive effect it has had on them, even in a short space of time.
If you would like to join Nigel on one of our Wilderness Aurora Adventures and find out look for your version of wilderness, take a look here.