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Running Laps in Lapland

The Journal of Prevarication
Shedding the Shackles of Fact Since 1947

By Jim Cook
Official State Liar of Arizona

I came home from our winter tour of Lapland with terrible respiratory problems. The staff in the emergency room here in  Wickenburg couldn’t believe that I got sick while being chased by wolves.

Now, as I sit here hacking and coughing and blowing permafrost out  my ears, I know that the trip was worth it.

I always wanted to see Lapland. It started in the fourth grade, when I saw photographs in geography books of the native people posing stiffly beside their reindeer.

Engineers from the Wickenburg Institute for Factual Diversity had to go to Lapland to road-test the new Hyundai Hypothesis. Miss Ellie and I went along.

The Hypothesis, a mid-sized SUV, is designed to run on a fuel that hasn’t yet been invented. Attempts to turn permafrost into fuel are not promising, but we needed to test the vehicle under arctic conditions. 

Since the Hypothesis engine is still a theory, we borrowed the engine from a Hyundai Tucson. We used the same powerplant to test the Hypothesis on the harsh deserts of southwestern Arizona last July. For the Lapland tests, we had to install four-wheel-drive skis.

You probably remember from grade school that Lapland is a blanket name for a region that spreads from Russia across Finland, Sweden and Norway. (Blankets are recommended). But to confuse me, Finland has an actual political subdivision called Lapland, a province squeezed between Russia and Sweden.

The indigenous people of Lapland do not like to be called “Laps” or “Lapps.”  That’s like calling an Apache a “Redskin.”

The natives of Lapland are Sami people, the oldest indigenous culture  in northern Europe, and a rich culture it is. They do Sami dancing, not Lap dancing.

Some Samis still herd reindeer, but others are right up-town, working in mills, electronics factories, banks and bistros. One morning when it was 76 degrees below zero, we saw a man walking down the street on snowshoes, carrying one of those little red “designer” laptops. The computer turned blue in the cold.

We were never out of sight of tourists. Apparently, a lot of people share my curiosity.

We hired a Sami support crew, with their reindeer, their sled dogs, their snowmobiles. From our base in Enari, Finland, our little caravan headed into the wilderness, going east toward Russia’s Kola Peninsula. Only the tops of trees were poking out through the snow, which must have been twelve feet deep.

We were not far out of Murmansk when the Hypothesis quit cold. No one could figure out why. It’s the kind of thing your car will do when there’s no mechanic around. But we had a factory-trained Sami mechanic with us. His best guess was that gasoline was retreating to its nice warm tank, refusing to go meet the fuel injectors. Samis employ a good deal of mysticism to explain life. 

We put a sled under each corner of the Hypothesis, and  hitched up twenty reindeer to pull it. Miss Ellie had always had a secret wish to drive sled dogs, so the Samis fixed her up with a team. I followed along on a Finnish kicksled powered by one big reindeer.

We traveled rather slowly and sedately, until the bears came at us. There must have been a dozen of those big critters. They were grizzlies of the 800-pound kind, and they looked hungry.

We whipped up the reindeer and the sled dogs, and sped back toward Finland. The bears were gaining on us. Riding out there alone on my kicksled, I thought I was sure to be devoured. I could feel one big bear’s breath on my neck. He grabbed the scarf off my neck, which is probably why I have bronchitis. 

Then we heard the wolves. There must have been 40 of them, coming up on us fast. We didn’t know if the wolves were hunting us, or the bears, but they were howling and yipping and slavering, and we didn’t want to stop and ask their intentions.  

We were now sandwiched between thundering bears and slavering wolves. Bears were starting to pass me. I whipped up my reindeer and herded the hindmost bear off ro the left, around a little knoll. Sure enough, the wolves followed.

Our Sami crew chief saw what I had in mind. He went around the other side of the knoll, steering the Hypothesis behind its reindeer train. The bears followed him.

Our party hurried to the top of the knoll so that we could watch as bears and wolves met head-on. We expected a gory sight, but it was not like that. Traditionally, bears and wolves are not supposed to meet that way. They stalk each other.

They seemed confused and embarrassed. The bears sneaked back toward Russia, and the woves skulked off in the direction of Sweden.

It was a memorable experience, but I’m finnished with Lapland, and Miss Ellie says there’s Norway she’ll ever drive a dog sled again.

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