Reindeer herding isn’t the usual sort of topic for Grammy but this was an experience I have to share. I have a friend who is one of the Sami people, the indigenous people of Lapland. Lapland is an area above the Arctic Circle encompassing northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Originally nomadic, the Sami now own and maintain herds of reindeer that range over millions of acres of dense forest. Each spring the reindeer are rounded up so the owners can identify and “notch” the new calves.
My friend arranged for a group of women who are part of an international friendship organization to spend a week visiting the Sami people and learning about the culture. We spent an evening at one of the “round-ups”. It was an amazing experience.
Picture Grammy in the center of several hundred reindeer swirling around while the Sami men lasso the calves to “notch” their ears. We’ve driven 30 or 40 kilometers through the wilderness, over dirt tracks, to a place where there are many cars and trucks along the road. We find a group of people gathered around a camp fire. There are long birch logs covered with deer skins for benches. Reindeer meat is cooking on a round sheet of metal, a grill of sorts. There are many men and women who will be involved in the round-up.
We’ve been invited for supper and to watch the marking of the new calves by the owners. We eat reindeer meat, it’s been lightly smoked, sliced very thin and cooked over the fire. We have salad and potato salad and potato soup, everything is delicious.
After a wait the deer are finally corralled into a small enclosure. The herd has been brought from miles away into a larger enclosure a few nights before and now into a smaller one. Once contained, the men go in with long poles that have a sort of lasso on the end. This herd is owned by a group of five families. Each family has their own reindeer and will claim the calves belonging to their deer. When they identify a calf that belongs to them, they lasso it by the back legs and cut notches in the ears. Every owner has his/her distinctive. patented mark.
The reindeer are totally non-aggressive. Soon there were small children in the midst of the herd and also fifteen awestruck European and Australian women, and one American. I watched while a calf’s ears were being notched and a four year old girl petted it.
This is also the time of year when it is daylight all night. We left late, 11:30PM, the claiming of the calves would go on for hours longer.