About a 30 minutes’ drive west from our hotel is the end of urban Miami and the beginning of the Everglades. We took a 90-minute airboat tour on a lovely sunny January afternoon. 


The airboats, just like those we remember from TV (Gentle Ben!), skim across the water and grasses. The captain and tour guide told us to use the ear-protectors to keep our caps from flying off in the wind. Even with the protection, we could hear and feel the grass slide beneath the hull. (Skimming over the open-water tracks, the flat grasses and even the tall grass curiously reminded us of snow-mobiling over tracks in powder snow last winter in Sweden.)


The guide explained that the Everglades marshes are fresh water. It is only rain water that fills this vast expanse. A healthy collection of thunderstorms can raise the water level by as much as four feet in a day. On the other hand, if the usual summer thunderstorms fail, the earth dries and cracks. The alligators and other wildlife retreat to waterholes.


Within a few minutes of leaving the starting spot, the guide slowed and then stopped the airboat. There, half-submerged, was a big black tranquil alligator. The guide fondly called him George. In general, adult alligators steer clear of each other. If they get too close to each other, often they will fight until one retreats.


As we continued on, we saw alligators everywhere. Can you imagine: Over the expanse of the Everglades (about 800 square miles), there might be a big hungry alligator every 100 feet of so. Not a place for a casual stroll.

At one point, an oil-black bird, a grackle, lit on the rail of the airboat right in front of us. We were sitting in the first row, so the grackle studied us intently, with head turns right and left. The guide reached into the field of water lilies, plucked up a big flat leaf, and extracted from the stem a worm. Grackles love these worms and know when the human will get them some. Mike held out the worm at his fingertips. The grackle swooped in immediately, and he left Mike’s fingers intact.


At another grassy glade, purple gallinule birds gathered around us. Beautiful colors, both male and female. They adored the water-lily worms as well.


Throughout our course, herons and other marsh birds took flight as the airboat approached. They were far more cautious than the alligators, grackles, and gallinules.


In a pond area sheltered by grasses, bushes, and cypress trees lives a friendly soft-shell turtle. The guide seemed to love visiting this fellow. The turtle had lost a leg at some point, possibly bitten off by an alligator. A long slender fish hung around with the turtle. Expecting a hand-out from our guide, the turtle joined us for a while, and his fish friend followed along.


We really enjoyed being out in this landscape and among its residents on such a beautiful winter day. 


The Luscious Palau de la Música Catalana

There’s more to Barcelona than Antoni Gaudí.

As a visitor to Barcelona, you can’t miss the celebration of the architect Antoni Gaudí. All tours visit the Sagrada Familia, the Casa Battló, Park Güell, and many other Gaudí-designed buildings. All the souvenir shops are filled with Gaudí-inspired objects.

But Gaudí, while an unequaled genius, was one among many expressive modernisme architects and artists who flourished at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century in Barcelona. Another was Lluís Domènech i Montaner. 

At the turn of the 20th century, the catalan choir association Orféo Català commissioned the design of a new performance hall. They chose the most prominent architect in Barcelona at the time, who was not Gaudí. It was Lluís Domènech i Montaner. Construction was completed in 1908.

For the people of Barcelona, this was a time of great industrialization, economic prosperity, social change, and Catalan cultural resurgence. The founders of Orféo Català sought to celebrate Catalan choral music and to support ordinary people in the working neighborhoods of industrial Barcelona. The singers in the choirs of the Orféo Català were ordinary people, not paid professionals.

The performance hall is squeezed in the midst of the textile-workers district. Still today, you can’t get a long view of the facades because of its tight location. Instead, its artistic exuberance reveals itself in glimpses and around corners.

Barcelona’s modernisme style is an explosion of classical, natural, regional, art nouveau, gothic and just plain creative elements. You feel the pride of Catalonia’s uniqueness. Forms and colors from nature react to the challenges of industry. You see the hands of artisans and artists in the mosaics, carvings and sculptures. 


Characteristic materials of the mosaics of the modernisme style are broken ceramic, stone and glass. The broken pieces were less expensive than whole elements, and they allowed the construction of sinuous curving forms.


The lobby and entry stairs hint at the exuberance of design awaiting you in the main hall.


Natural light fills the hall. 


The architect designed the space for choral performances, not orchestras or operas. The choral society wanted light and openness. Even with the building’s being squeezed between workers’ buildings, the architect filled the hall with light from great windows on all sides, and through an astonishing drooping glass ceiling. 


The iconography of the art in the hall connects the cultural heritage of Catalan composers and performers with the greats of the Western tradition.


The sculpture to the left of the stage shows a famous Catalan composer of the time and illustrates one of his hugely popular songs.


Balancing this Catalan expression is the sculpture on the right, with Wagner and his valkyries. This pairing says that Catalan musical culture is the equal of the best of Europe.


Eighteen muses from around the world overlook the stage. Note the creative combination of two-dimensional mosaic forms with the emerging sculptural torsos. The Catalan flag holds the center. Catalan culture at the center of the world, and connected to all the world’s musical heritage. 


Beyond all the history and meaning, we just find this place beautiful. The fertility of art, craft and design wraps you up. It is amazing that all this is just one room.

Here are more images of the design details. Enjoy!

Our guide from the Palau de la Música Catalana brought as much exuberance to our tour as the architect did to the hall. Splendid ambassador for this remarkable place. 



Once we had decided to make a road trip to Venice, we realized that along the route was the Italian Piedmont wine region of Barolo.

We had enjoyed Barolo red wines in the past: lovely rich and aromatic wines, usually pricey, so only for the most special occasions. Maybe they would be less expensive at the source! Since we were going to be traveling with two wine-loving friends, we created a two-night one-day stop in the region. We knew nothing detailed about this wine region and its wines. By pure coincidence, the dates of our visit were the start of the annual white-truffle festival. We arranged to take a day-long wine- and truffle-tasting tour.

Marco was our host and tour guide. His family has raised grapes and made wine in this region for generations. Marco and his brother — both in their mid-30s — are the latest generation to manage the family business.

We stayed at his family’s very comfortable B&B. It is set amid their vineyards and next to their family home.

Marco, being a wine producer himself, overflowed with detailed and fascinating knowledge and experience.

While there are a number of grapes grown in this region, three varieties are prominent: dolcetto, barbera, and nebbiolo.

Up until about a generation ago, dolcetto was the grape most cultivated. The local economy was generally agricultural — not just grapes — and not particularly prosperous. Vintners were primarily farmers and produced wine for their own consumption. Dolcetto yields drinkable wine immediately, no aging needed. Farmers couldn’t afford the time to hold and age wines, and what customers there were couldn’t afford more expensive wines.

So what changed so that now high-quality exportable wines are now produced? In some part, innovative Piedmont vintners saw the rise of Tuscan wines and started to experiment.

Tuscany had something crucial that the Piedmont did not: an aristocracy who owned the land and vineyards. They could afford to travel to see how the French make wine. In the Piedmont, these were just poor farmers, who couldn’t afford to explore and learn. And there was competition between farms and villages, rather than a tradition of cooperation.

With Tuscan marketing and changes in mind, at least one forward-thinking Piedmont vintner ventured out to France to see how the French make such notable wines. The story we were told goes like this: The maverick went to Burgundy. He showed up at a winery, and asked to see how things were done. By chance he met the owner who was in his sports car on the way out to his other house in the French Riviera. The Italian was taken aback by such a show of wealth and fine living. He thought, we aren’t doing this right. These French know how to produce good wine, while also enjoying a fine life.

In the 1980s, a number of these innovative wine makers, including Angelo Gaja, pushed forward. They shifted the focus from the dolcetto grape to nebbiolo and barbera grapes. Nebbiolo grapes are the heart of Barolo wines. Wine from Nebbiolo grapes can be harsh in taste when the wine is young. The innovators developed aging approaches that yield lovely smooth complex wines.

One part of the process is to age the wines in giant wooden barrels from Croatia, sometimes for 6 years and longer. The giant barrels mean the wine has less contact with the wood than if the wine were in traditional-sized barrels. Since the nebbiolo grape starts with tanin and edge, the less wood influence there is, the better. They now use a combination of concrete tanks, stainless steel, and wood barrels. And some vintners are currently experimenting with terra-cotta amphora, just as the ancient Greeks and Romans used.

Barolo wines come from a very specific bit of land in the Langhe region of the Piedmont. Other nebbiolo-based wines include Barbaresco, Roero, Gattinara and Ghemme. We had assumed, ignorantly, that Barolo was a type of grape, when in fact it is a precisely defined region within Langhe.

Among the specific rules for creating and marketing a Barolo wine is that the wine must spend 18 months aging in oak, then 18 months aging further as the vintner wants — wood, stainless steel, concrete, etc.

We visited the Langhe region in mid-October, only a few days after Marco and his family had completed this year’s harvest.

Marco helped us read the land by looking at the vines. These hills are composed of distinct areas of clay and of tufa, which is a kind of limestone. The clay holds more water than the tufa; the tufa is a less nutritious medium, although it drains well. Newly planted vines do better in the clay. Vines planted in tufa have to struggle to grow. They develop very deep roots to find the water they need. The vines that work hard tend to produce grapes that are better for making good wine. You can read the vineyard’s soil through the leaves and density of growth: lusher foliage signals tufa soil.

At one of the wineries we visited, they had just completed construction of new facilities. They had excavated into the hill for one of the buildings. They left exposed the cross section of the soil, including strata of clay and tufa.

Marco told us about his family’s experiences and challenges on their hillside vineyards. Snow in winter is necessary because it gives the water time to soak into the soil. Heavy summer rains don’t help. They need to install drainage pipes beneath the vines to carry off excess water. However, one year recently, heavy rains followed right after they had planted new vines on some steep slopes. The vines and the top soil slid down the hill; they needed to start over.

Climate change is not abstract and theoretical to these wine producers. During the last 30 years, they see the changes. Summer are hotter; winters provide less snow. It used to be that southern and western slopes were best. If the changes continue as they have in the last 30 years, in coming decades, the best exposures may be east. It used to be that vintners would trim leaves away from the grapes so that the grapes could warm in the sun, creating more sugar. Now, they retain the west-facing leaves to protect the grapes from the harsh sun, and instead expose the grapes to the gentler east sun.

As climate change progresses, vintners will need to replant grape varieties on different hill slopes. Zones that currently don’t produce the best grapes may become tomorrow’s stars.

Oh, and we had the pleasure to taste some Langhe and Barolo wines! Marco took us to three wineries: a small one, a medium-sized one, and a large one. That way we could explore some differences.

Funny how wine-tasting leads to wine-purchasing. In our two years in France, so far, we have learned that non-French wines are barely available in France. Our mission in the Langhe and Barolo region was to find some wines that we enjoy, and surreptitiously drive them back home. But we probably will now have to drink them with the curtains drawn, secretly savoring these luscious Italian tastes.

PS: At each restaurant, shaved fresh white truffles were available, priced per gram. We were told that a warm, relatively neutral dish works best for the the delicate truffles. Options included a sunny-side-up fried egg, pasta with a bit of butter and cheese, a melted delicate cheese with artichoke stems, and steak tartare. To our surprise, the one we liked the most (and I mean, REALLY liked) was the steak tartare. While the truffle aroma is in itself strong and distinctive — and fabulous — other tastes and aromas easily overpower it. The clean aroma and taste of the tartare allowed the truffle to take center stage. Each inhale was deliriously wonderful. Sorry, we have another snobbish addiction.

Chandelier Shoulder in Murano

Murano is an island in the Venetian lagoon, a 15 minute boat-ride from Venice proper. Its celebrity is tied to a centuries-long history of glass making. Originally, glass foundries were operating in Venice itself, not on Murano. After many fires in the glass district, which spread to other neighborhoods, in 1291, the foundries and operations were sent over to Murano. 


Today, you find canals lined with glass shops, as well as cafés and restaurants. The variety and forms of glass objects are delightful as well as overwhelming. Our recommendation is to allocate a day, stroll slowly, don’t hurry, take a wine and lunch break, and enjoy. 

We decided to look for some drinking glasses, some door pulls for our new dining area cabinets, and if possible, a chandelier for over the table. Having a mission was part of the pleasure. 

A few anecdotes:

We found one shop down a side alley. The displays were more professional and gallery-like than most. Much of what was on offer were heavy geometric vases. But we spotted some solid glass door knobs which led us to ask the woman at the counter if she had any cabinet door pulls. She proceeded to pull out baskets of glass beads.

They were much too small to be door pulls, but she explained that we could select any style and color, and she could make them into pulls. The price she quoted was exorbitant, but we chatted anyway. She quickly launched into a presentation about authentic Murano glass, as distinct from the increasing amount of copies produced on the mainland and, scandalously, in China. As we were talking, a small group of Asian people came into the shop. She immediately went over to them and explained that this wasn’t a shop, it was just a display, and anyway it was closing time. She ushered them out with a smile. Coming back to us, she apologized for the interruption, but not for the racial profiling. We could feel her passion about unfair competition. It wasn’t clear however why only Asian people would buy her pieces with the intention of counterfeit. 

In most shops, when we said that we were looking for a chandelier that was part traditional and part contemporary, the salespeople would eagerly escort us to a display floor above the shop. That’s where they display the serious pieces, as well as more variety. Even if they have only traditional pieces, they are happy to try to seduce us with what they have. We almost always saw attractive and interesting light fixtures, even if not quite what we had in mind. 

We specifically sought out a shop that we had visited 8 years ago during our first time in Murano. At that time, we had selected a colorful large vase that we wanted to turn into a decorative lamp. The salesman agreed to drill a hole in its base, for the power cord, and ship it to us. We took a photo of our vase, paid the down payment, and went on our way. A couple of months later, a very well-packed crate arrived in Hawaii. We found an intact vase with a hole in the bottom. But it didn’t quite match our memory. Thanks to the photo we had taken, we could see that it was different, and we decided it wasn’t as attractive as the one we had selected. The people at the foundary back in Murano explained that when they drilled the hole in the vase we had selected, the vase broke. They broke at least one other before they succeeded with the one they sent to us. We weren’t happy enough with the one they sent. They were pleasant and professional, and said that unfortunately they didn’t think they could make this work without destroying more vases. We sent the vase back and received a full refund. 

So with this experience, even if it hadn’t worked out, we thought we should see what they had for our current quest. At the door was sitting a very large man, and standing behind him was a very thin man of about 70. We cheerily explained what we were seeking. The thin man and the fat man talked with animation in Italian. Then the thin man said with dour expression, “We don’t have anything for you.” Silence. OK. Rejected, we exited. What they lacked in tact they fulfilled in clarity. 

We stopped in a small shop that had only little decorative items and some drinking glasses. We spotted a set of 6 glasses that appealed to us right away. As we reached for one, the young saleswoman called out pointedly not to touch and that she would be glad to help us. Not liking to be told what to do, I was a little put off, even if I knew why she had called out. Chastened, we asked to see our target glasses. They were well priced and we thought they would look great on our new wood dining table. 

I chatted with the saleswoman while she wrapped each glass in bubble wrap and tissues. She apologized for the sharp response to our reaching out to glasses. She said that people break items all the time. There had recently been a Chinese woman in the store; she reached for a tall slender sculptural piece, and knocked it over. It fell on a shelf’s worth of small pieces, shattering many of them. Embarrassed and panicked, she ran out of the shop. A big American man ran after her and brought her back. She had broken something like 1000€ of glass, and eventually paid for her mistake. 

I asked if this shop was hers. She said, no, she just worked here part time. Seeing that Mike and I were together, she started to share some of her own history. At first I wasn’t quite sure why. She said that she had been working for Fiat in a marketing department. After she had been working there for a while, her boss, a man, discovered that she had a girl friend. He fired her. She took him and the company to court. She said that the court process took six years, and in the end, the man won. The court’s opinion was that she couldn’t prove that the man’s motive was homophobic. She said that this kind of case is very hard to win in Italy. I asked what she was going to do now. With a very nice smile and determined expression, she said that she was going to open her own marketing firm. Terrible path, but fantastic response. 

Then she asked how long Mike and I have been together. Impressed with the answer (almost 25 years), she took out her phone. She showed me a lovely photograph of her and her wife of 5 years. Two stunningly beautiful women, viewed from above, embracing, with wedding dresses flowing around them. She showed another photo of the two of them with their parents. She said she came out to her parents just before going to university in the UK. Her parents were shocked and blamed themselves, even though there was nothing to blame anyone about. She went off to London. A couple of months later, her parents came to visit. Her father apologized for his reaction, and embraced her fully. Ever since, her parents have fully accepted her and her wife. 

Very warm and open chat just from purchasing a few glasses. 

In the end, we did find a chandelier that met our expectations, both aesthetically and financially. As a condition of the sale, we had to promise not to post any photos of the chandelier. So you will have to come visit next year to see it!

By the way, this is why the title of this post is Chandalier Shoulder. After two days of walking in and out of shops looking up at light fixtures, our shoulders were sore and tight like after a stressful day at work. Much happier reason however!


We recently took a road trip to Venice and back. This post and a few of the next ones come from some of our travel moments.

Chamonix, France, lies in a valley directly below Mont Blanc, which is Europe’s tallest mountain. There is a lookout called the Aguille du Midi at an elevation of 3,842 m, 968 m lower than the top of Mont Blanc. From there, there are purportedly grand views in all directions atop the peaks of the Alps. Alas, the upper portion of the cable car system was closed for maintenance.


On the other side of the valley, a cable car ascends halfway up to the place called Flégère at elevation 1,877 m. In winter, additional lifts can take you higher up the mountain to ski runs. We arrived at the base at 10 am, opening time, with the expectation of a nice ride up, a little time enjoying the views, and a return descent.

Just off the cable car, we found clear sunny views across the valley, to Mont Blanc and adjacent peaks, including the Aiguilles du Grépon, du Chardonnet, et Verte. Our view looked directly south, right into the sun. Very little of the peaks were in direct sun, just silhouettes against the brightness. The cable car terminus was in our way, so we thought to walk up the gravel path a little to get a clearer view.

A little higher, and the panorama was full. But still silhouetted by the low sun. We wanted to see the mountains in full bright light, so decided to stay a while longer. The gravel path continued up the mountain to the next switchback. We decided to go up just one more level.

From here the view was even better. The sun was starting to illuminate the edges of the mountain ridges, as well as to cast rays down across the forests facing us. Maybe just a little higher.

Now we spotted a group of people above us who were pulling on what we realized were paragliders that were lying on the ground. We had already seen a number of paragliders over the valley. We wanted to see them take off. So up another level.

We found a spot just above their launching field. The wind was gentle. All but one person were sitting on the ground amid their piles of colored sails. A leader or instructor was on her radio. She had a very strong voice so we could hear her talking about the wind currents, and relaying information coming over the radio. She helped the standing person spread out the sail behind her. We, and they, waited and waited for gusts of wind. Just as we were about to give up on seeing a launch, suddenly the sail was inflated and the person flew off the cliff and into the sky above the valley. It happened so quickly that we missed filming the launch.

We decided to wait for the next launch, determined to capture the jump into the void. A little higher up the hill for us, of course. Now a man was positioning himself. He earlier had been talking cockily about how to turn figure eights in the air, much to the consternation of the leader. He stood, waiting, with his back to the hill. With a new gust, his sail filled and he ran off the cliff. Instantly, the sail deflated, twisting on itself. He disappeared below onto the steep slope below. We think that the only thing that got hurt was his pride.

Finally, our phone was in position for the next launch. Lovely and exhilarating to watch this person, slung beneath what a moment before was a swath of thin fabric, float away high over the deep valley.

By now, the sun was shining on the glaciers on Mont Blanc and the other icy valleys. The upper air was so still that jet contrails stayed fine completely across the sky.

While we talked about staying up here forever, we knew we needed to descend. Looking down at the cable car terminus, we realized just how high we had hiked, one switchback at a time. On the leisurely stroll down the views continued to shine and awe.

Back at the cable car, we realized we had enjoyed the views, air and walks for 4 hours. The time had slipped by just like the paragliders.


Snowmobile Adventure

At the end of our arranged tour in the arctic, Norwegian Airlines cancelled our morning flight from Kiruna back to Stockholm. They booked us on an evening flight, which, once we thought about it, gave us another full day in the beautiful landscape. We checked with the activities desk at the IceHotel where we had just spent the night. Happily, there were available places in the afternoon snowmobiling activity for the two of us.

At the appointed meeting time and place, we were standing with about a dozen other people, assuming that we all were waiting for the snowmobile tour leader. Right on time, a young woman walked up to the group, calling out “Bylund?” in the Swedish pronunciation: Beeluund! We assumed we were just the first name on her list, but that was the only name she called out. Smiling, she, Beatrice, said that she assumed that based on my name we were Swedish, and she said that we were the only two people on this day’s activity. She was excited because she could take us to a special location that she can’t take larger groups to. Sounded very good to us too! She was full of good cheer and excitement to be out on an afternoon’s snowmobiling.

Beatrice walked us over to three snowmobiles; we each got our own. I’m a complete novice; Mike, because of his many years’ experience of motorcycle driving, finds a lot of familiarity. We headed out with Beatrice in the lead, me in the protected middle, and Mike finishing our little convoy. It was a gloriously sunny day with vivid blue sky and no wind. Our route started on the frozen Torne River (which provides the ice for the IceHotel). The river was covered with at least a half meter of super dry snow powder. While riven by lots of snowmobile tracks, it also still offered big expanses of untouched powder. Beatrice instructed us to drive through the fresh powder to enjoy the float and glide. Each time we crossed an existing track, which is really just air, the snowmobile sped up just a bit. It revealed the fact that the snow powder is only slightly more dense and substantial than plain air.

Beatrice watched over us to make sure we were comfortable with the snowmobiles. We stopped at the edge of the woods where she explained that we were going to go to the top of the mountain above us. She said that some of the track is steep, but not to worry because the snowmobiles are powerful. Was she reassuring us, or warning? But she was so happy that we followed her eagerly.

The trail wound through a gorgeous snowy forest. The sun shone brightly between the tree boughs.


Then, as she had explained, the track turned straight up the hill amid the trees. I kept her in sight while concentrating as hard as I could on the track, trusting the power of the snowmobiles. We ascended for what seemed like quite a while. Then Beatrice stopped, exclaiming, “We made it!” We couldn’t see Mike behind us so we waited a few minutes in the sunshine. And a few more minutes. No Mike.

Beatrice said that she would go see if he needed help. She bounded back down the track on foot, and disappeared around a bend and into the forest. I took some photos and just soaked in the cold beauty. I was wearing a balaclava for warmth and the helmet for protection, both of which made it hard to hear much. After a while, when the time seemed heavy, and I started to wonder if something was wrong, I could barely hear a voice. I pulled my helmet off and called out. I still couldn’t make out the words, but if someone was calling out, then they definitely were calling for help. Now it was my turn to bound down the track. Even though it is was a track over which snowmobiles had obviously previously run, it was still only lightly packed powder. Bounding down the hill was more of a controlled fall.

After what felt like a long distance, I found Beatrice and Mike standing by the snowmobile which was on its side just off the track. Beatrice was laughing and positive; Mike looked more serious, obviously feeling guilty for having slid off the track. In fact, in the first minutes after the overturn, he had been pinned under the snowmobile. It was the very deep powder — up to our hips — that had caused the tumble, but it also had kept the full weight off of Mike’s leg. He had been able, with effort, to squirm out from under the snowmobile without its falling further. Other than a bruised knee, he was OK.


The snowmobile was also deep in the powder and would require at least all three of us to get it back up on the track. Part of the approach was to pack more snow under the main tread of the snowmobile, while digging out the front skis. The snow was so powdery that, when we packed it with our feet under the snowmobile, it just flowed back out again, like water. It was also almost impossible to get sturdy footing in the powder from which to push on the snowmobile. While it was still a really beautiful day, we were working up a sweat packing snow, trying to rock the snowmobile, and attempting to get traction again. Beatrice said a few times that, “This happens all the time. Don’t worry!” We weren’t so sure about that!

At last, she said that we should leave the snowmobile where it was. She would call her colleagues who would come to pull it out of the snow. We then trudged up the snowy track which seemed even steeper now that we were on foot. Beatrice, fit outdoorsy twenty-something that she is, sped up the hill. Mike and I, not quite any of those attributes, took the ascent in segments, working up a good sweat. (Notes to selves: Must exercise more at home!)

After a few minutes to catch our breath and cool our clothing layers a little, Mike and I hopped on the snowmobile that had been mine, and Beatrice on hers. We proceeded further through the forest, which was now almost level. Very soon, we emerged on the top of the mountain. A glorious immense view lay out before us: The frozen Torne River and its islands, the IceHotel and village off in the distance, snowy mountains and forests as far as we could see. The view, the setting, the shiny day, and the arctic landscape were all stunning. We couldn’t stop saying that we now understood why Beatrice liked this spot so much. We were very grateful!

She asked us if we’d like some hot lingonberry juice. Of course! She lay two reindeer skins on the snow. In between them, she lay down fresh evergreen boughs, followed by an alternating grid of logs and birch bark. She knelt over an unrolled portion of bark, with a knife in one hand and a small rod of magnesium in the other. She scraped the rod with the back of the knife blade repeatedly until a spark leapt onto the bark and ignited it. Within a few seconds, the wood construction was fully ablaze. The metal pot of lingonberry juice heated up in a matter of minutes. We knelt on the reindeer skins, sipped the hot juice, and enjoyed the glorious view and setting, and Beatrice’s animated company.


Except for our conversation and the crackle of the fire, it was very quiet on this summit. So we could catch the distant sound of snowmobiles long before two of Beatrice’s colleagues arrived. Two handsome young men pulled onto the summit, with our snowmobile and one of their own. They had towed the fallen snowmobile back on the track. We all joked about all the drinks that Beatrice would have to buy her colleagues to atone for our having tipped over one of the snowmobiles. She grimaced and said that yes, in fact, at least 24 drinks, one for each of her entire team. The two guys bounded past our fire and reindeer skins to peer over the edge of the snow field and down the steep side of the mountain. I thought they would tumble over and disappear. They were just excited to see if there were good skiing slopes and conditions up here. All five of us chatted for a while. One of their colleagues back at the hotel was French; he was trying to teach them some French. In their funny accents, they shared a few of the expressions they were learning. I wanted to know if their colleague was teaching them phrases that were funny or obscene while telling them that they meant something innocuous. Fortunately, there wasn’t any of that. But he was teaching them some pretty direct pickup lines.


The two guys finished their lingonberry juice, got back on their original snowmobile, and headed back down the mountain, waving goodbye. We put out the fire and stowed the supplies.


We were back to our three-person convoy. We were out in the open snowfield. Beatrice headed out, with me back in the second spot, and Mike in the third. Within about four seconds, it was now my turn to tip into the deep powder. It only took being a little bit to the side of the track. I wasn’t under the snowmobile, but it had definitely sunk deep into the snow. Now Mike and I could feel equally guilty about our snowmobile performance. The three of us applied the packing, rocking, and pulling techniques from the first time, with exactly the same results: no movement! Beatrice finally said that we should just leave this one here like we had done with the first. She stayed positive the entire time, remarkably! Mike and I definitely worried that she was going to have a difficult reception once she got back to her boss. While these mishaps were not what we anticipated, we were safe and sound, and having an adventure. We explained as clearly as we could that, while perhaps Beatrice would have problems with her boss, for us, we were having a great day and had zero complaints. She, even with her cheery demeanor, looked a little relieved.

Once again a convoy of two snowmobiles, we headed down the mountain. Mike drove (much better to have the experienced driver at the handlebars). Downhill tracks look even steeper than uphill tracks. You have to balance a mixture of gentle breaking and keeping the snowmobile going fast enough to stay atop the snow. We were both pretty gun-shy by now. Mike did great. I did great too, saying, “You’re doing great!” a lot.

Finally at the bottom of the forested hill, we emerged back onto the frozen river. Mike could relax a bit and enjoy floating over the untouched powder. The snowmobile was still rather hard to steer precisely; it tended to float to one side or the other even while speeding over the snow. But it was a wide river with only our two snowmobiles on it. Glorious sunshine and landscape. Really beautiful.

After an outing of almost four hours, we pulled into our starting place. We reiterated how much fun we had had, and how sorry we were for having gotten not one but two snowmobiles stuck in the snow. She gave us big hug. She took a deep breath, and said, “Now I’d better go talk to my boss!”