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Reader's Digest International - - Laughter - READER’S DI­GEST

UR PLANE NOSED down through a layer of ice fog and shud­dered hard, as if at the sud­den view: a mist-shred­ded scrap of for­est, all but buried in snow. “Wel­come to the Arc­tic,” the pi­lot said, as we bumped down on a run­way of ice and packed pow­der.

It was the end of Jan­uary, and we had ar­rived in Kiruna, the north­ern­most town in Swe­den, 144 kilo­me­ters above the Arc­tic Cir­cle. Around us, snow-clad for­est spread away for nearly 390,000 square kilo­me­ters. Squalls shook the cabin as we tax­ied. The storm was out of the north­north­east, and I tried to pic­ture where that wind had re­cently been: a strip of Fin­land, a rib­bon of Norway, the Bar­ents Sea, and be­fore that, prob­a­bly the po­lar ice cap. Brrr.

We had been trav­el­ing from Den­ver for 18 hours straight. “Tell me again,” I said to my wife, Kim. “Why are we com­ing to the Arc­tic in the win­ter?”

“To see the aurora bo­re­alis,” she an­swered cheer­fully. She loves the cold, she says—it wakes her up.

Min­utes later, we were es­corted out of the squat air­port build­ing to­ward a pack of yelp­ing dogs. An ap­plecheeked guide named Espen Ham­n­vik, who wore a fur-trimmed parka, handed us each a coat, heavy snow pants, a hat, and boots. “There is your sled, Kim. Pete, this is yours,” he said. “There are your dogs.” Af­ter show­ing us how to use the brakes on our sleds, he gave a mit­tened thumbs-up and mushed off into the snowy woods.

Our Alaskan huskies barked and yowled and strained against their ropes. An­other guide yanked the lines loose, the sleds jerked, and we were off, run­ning free over the fresh snow, into the heart of Swedish La­p­land.

What we had come for, aside from the north­ern lights, was a taste of the in­dige­nous, his­tor­i­cally no­madic, Sami cul­ture, and an un­der­stand­ing of why the north­ern Swedes are so crazy about win­ter. We’d stay first at a re­mote lodge ac­ces­si­ble in win­ter only by dog team or snow­mo­bile, then we’d take a train some 260 kilo­me­ters south to sleep in Sami-style can­vas tents. From there we’d move to the ver­tig­i­nous Tree­ho­tel. We’d be out­side most of the time, and we’d try not to lose any dig­its to the cold.

My dogs were the size of bor­der col­lies—two piebald sis­ters up front, two brown broth­ers be­hind. Bred for

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