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12/17/02

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12/17/02 - Finland

Very rarely does one such as me have a local connection in a place as obscure and mysterious as northern Finland, where the icy gales blow in from the Arctic Ocean and coat each season of the year with a winterish glow that the locals have made a part of their unique and hardy lifestyle. Enticed by a dear friend from one of the largest newspapers in Scandinavia, I decided to join my Swedish-born comrade at the airport in Helsinki to catch a tiny turboprop to a hamlet called Luegueno, nearly 100 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. Here my companion's friends live among the Lapps, a people unique among all others in Europe due to both their Eurasian features and their nomadic traditional lifestyle. My heart soared as I looked out the twin engine ski-plane's window at the glorious Arctic sun, rising behind the mountains after only 137 minutes' rest. Our plane touched down onto a snowy, makeshift airfield built upon the ice of the narrow river, the village's lifeline summer and winter.

As I stepped out of the plane, the ice gave way beneath my boots, plunging me into the numbing and rapidly flowing waters of the Håakkenen River. Was I ever surprised! Of course, the 30-degree waters allowed for very little movement of my cramped limbs, which was probably for the best, as thrashing about would have made my downstream path less predictable for those attempting to carve a rescue hole.

When I came to, I was all the way back in Helsinki Lutheran Medical Center, where I was able to flip through postcards of the mystical northern lights, reindeer runs, and warm-hearted local people of the north once the remains of my frostbitten fingers were unswaddled.



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