Most readers probably still live in summer and complain about the approach of autumn. Summer in Kiruna is a distant memory. Maybe a month ago temperatures could still rise above 15 degrees, just when we were starting our summer course amid the approaching Spanish plume. Now and here the wind is blowing away the yellow leaves remaining on the trees. The autumn is warm this year; not a single snowflake has fallen since June, hardly any night offers serious frost. But The sun is fading and making place for aurora, seen by whoever goes out during a clear and sunless night. One month from now the area is likely to be covered by a white blanket, welcomed by skiing enthousiasts and nyctophobiacs. Bears and limnologists alike will commence their hibernation, and tourists who observe the deserted town at three 'o clock will mistakingly think it's three 'o clock in the night. The second season in which one cannot tell the difference is coming.
But that's the future. Now it's autumn, and Lappland in autumn is among the most beautiful places on our planet. The birch forests turn yellow, the tundra turns red, mosquitoes turn dead and this person spends his scarce spare time exploring the many paths in the forest that are not on the map. In the unusual event of meeting someone, the persons are either relieved or disappointed that the other is a human, not a bear on its way to town to do another poo-poo. Tourists have left the region and the mountains are the domain of the sami people, for whom it is the slaughter season — so I was told by a Sami who gave me a ride back from a village from where the only train home is at 22:00. His daughter, maybe 2 or 3 years old, asked him where I, the hitchhiker, was going; I had told him in Swedish, as my Sami language skills are rather limited (I know only "jojk").
Life is different here. The total number of employees at our faculty is hardly more than the number of USPC students. The PhD student community is small but active. Last week the Research School for Space Technology, to which I belong with my cloud remote sensing research, had a meeting at Esrange, the local space base (40 km from here) for the launch of stratospheric balloons and (mesospheric) sounding rockets. A nice cycle ride to the taige, but as even the 8 km taiga ride to uni makes people declare me for crazy (even when it's not the polar night with -34 degrees; see http://www.sat.ltu.se/members/olemke/funbelow30/ ), people ask how I got my bicycle and myself on the bus (carrying <10 people) without anybody noticing. A joyful moment to be reunified with my girlfriend, fresh back from Toulouse, made ill by the 25 degree temperature drop. And listening to the, uhm, "interesting" talk of a lady insisting the task op a PhD supervisor is to release the students inner knowledge. Right.
Kiruna is special. Twenty million musqitoes can't be wrong. But now they left and for that they are wrong. Aurora's blaze in the sky, the snow will lie for 7 months and the temperature will drop below -30 degrees. Looking out of my window, I can see the aurora above the completely wild area called the Torneträsk–Soppero fjällurskogs Naturreservat; the next town is on the Norwegian coast, some 150 km away. In between nobody lives. As far as one can see, and ten times further; empty land. No roads. No buildings. Not even a footpath. No people. Just taiga, tundra, hills, moose, bears and other animals wilder than your friends or foes in their most drunken moments. On the other side is the city, which should move for the mine to which the city owes its existance. Less than 20,000 people. Cinema every week. Nightclub every second week. And people making up for the atmospheric cold with their social warmth.