The History of Lapland

Written by John Scheffer
Oxford 1674

Of the temperature of the Air, and soil of Lapland.

We have seen how Lapland is situate; let us next proceed to other particularities of it. That ’tis very near the Pole appears from its latitude, insomuch that for some months in the Summer the Sun here never sets, and on the contrary in the Winter it never rises; which Herbersten says is but forty days, and tho three hours in the night the body of it is something darkned, so that his raies appear not, yet there is so much light, that they continue their work all the while. Indeed the same account is not to be taken of the whole Country, since part of it lies nearer, and part further distant from the Pole; and of these too some parts are more East, and some more to the West, from whence ’tis that with some of them the Sun is scarce above the Horizon for so many daies as he pretends. And altho in the Summer it never sets and goes below the Earth, yet neither does it rise much above it, but as it were kisses and gently glides along the Horizon for the most part; as likewise in the Winter when lowest it is not much beneath it: which is the reason that tho they have one continued night for some months, yet every day the Sun comes so near, that it makes a kind of twilight. Joh. Magnus saies that in the absence of the Sun there are two twilights, one in the morning, the other in the evening, in whiche those poor remainders of day provide that the night should not be utterly destructive. And by how much the Sun is farther absent, the light of the Moon is clearer. Hence Petr. Claud. saies that when the Moon shines they go a fishing, and dispatch all other necessaries that are to be done without doors; and when it does not, if the air be clear, even the light of the Stars so much abates the darkness, that the horrour of the night is much lessened, and there is light enough for the dispatch of severall businesses, which is farther assisted by the whiteness of the Snow. The Air of Lapland is cold, but fresh and clear, and consequently very wholesome, being much purified by the winds which are here very frequent and violent. It has bin attested to me by eye-witnesses, that there rises a certain wind out of the Sea, which beginning to blow raises presently such thick and dark clouds even in the midst of Summer, that they utterly hinder the sight, and in the Winter drives the snow with such force and quantity, that if any person be surprised abroad, he hath no other remedy but to throw himself on the ground with some garment over him, suffering himself to be quite buried in snow till the storm is past, which don, he rises up, and betakes himself to the next Cottage he can meet, all paths and roads being hid in the snow. But the strongest and most irresistible winds are upon the Mountains, where they throw down all things they meet with, and carry them away by their violence into far distant places, where they are never seen or heard of afterwards. Their only help against these is to convey themselves into dens and caves. Here is rain as in other places, sometimes more, and sometimes less, but in the midst of Summer, this as likewise the neighbouring Countries have very seldom any at all. Snow they have more often, and so much that in the Winter it covers all the Country, of which they make this advantage, that they can travel the more securely in the night; for the light of the Moon reflected from the snow, enlightens all the fields, that they can discern and avoid any pits, precipices and wild Beasts, that would otherwise annoy them: so convenient are the wayes for any journy, that two rein deer will draw a greater load over the trodden snow, then a Cart and ten Horses can in the fields at other times. These snows in some places, as on the tops of their highest hills, remain perpetually, and are never melted by the strongest heat of the Sun. In the upper part of Lapland there are Mountains rising to such vast hight, that the snow continues upon them Summer and Winter, and is never dissolved, but in other places the Land is every year overflown with floods of melted snow. They have also very great frosts nad mists, and good store of them, which sometimes so thicken the air, that the sight is quite obstructed, and Passengers cann’t distinguish one man from another to salute or avoid him, tho he be come close up to them. It is so extreme cold here in the Winter, that ’tis not to be endured but by those who have bin bred up in it. The swiftest Rivers are sometimes frozen so hard, that the ice is more than three of four cubits thick; and their greatest Lakes and deepest Seas bear any burdens whatever. Nor is the Summer, which to some may seem incredible, more moderately hot. For tho the Sun be very low, and his raies oblique, yet lying upon them so long together, their force is strangely increast; the only allay being from the vapors rising out of the neighbourning Sea, and from the snows, which as well in Summer as Winter continue undissolv’d in hollow places between the hills. As for Spring and Autumn they know neither, there being so very little space between the extremity of cold in the Winter, and heat in Summer, that by Strangers ’tis look’t upon as a miracle to see every thing springing fresh and green, when but a week before all things were overwhelm’d with frost and snow. Ol. Petr. Nieuren. has observed it as a memorable thing, and which he would not have believ’d from any one had he not seen it himself, that in the year 1616, June 24, going to the Church of Thor, he saw the trees budding, and the grass coming up green out of the ground, and within a forthnight after he saw the Plants full blown, and the leaves of the trees at their perfection, as if they had known how short the Summer was to be, and therefore made such hast to enjoy it. Their soil is generally neither very fertile nor barren, but between both, full of flints, stones and rocks, every where appearing high, by whose unevenness and roughness the rest of the ground about is useless. The ground is generally very soft and slabby, by reason of the many Lakes and Rivers overflowing, yet would it be fit either for tillage or pasture if any would be at pains and charge of draining it. Ol. Petrus saies of the Southern part, lying under the same climate and influence of the Heavens with Bothnia, that ’tis as apt to bear any grain as the Western Bothnia it self, but this is not without a concurrence and aptitude likewise of the soil: and he himself confesses in Chap. 12th, that the Land is stony, sandy, uneven, overrun in some places with briars and thornes, and in others nothing but hills, moores, fennes and standing waters, which are not the qualities that usually commend Land for agriculture. Then as to his urging its verdant and rich pastures, it doth not follow that all Land which yields much grass should be equally capable of bearing good corn. Yet doth the Land afford plenty of grass, and that so good that their Cattel are fatned much cheaper and sooner with it than any other thing, as also divers hearbs, but particularly ’tis happy in all kind of pot-hearbs. There are many large Woods and Forests, especially toward Norway, but not very thick; likewise steep rocks and high mountaines called Doffrini; upon whose naked tops, by reason of the violence of the winds to which they are exposed, never yet grew tree. Below these hills lie most pleasant Vallies, in which are clear fountaines and rivulets innumerable, which emtying themselves into the rivers, at length are carried into the Bothnic Sea. Their water is clear, sweet and wholesome, only their Forests abound with stinking and standing Pools. This Country Winter and Summer hath an incredible number of all kinds of wild beasts, especially the lesser sorts, which suffice not only for their own use, but to drive a great trade with their neighbours. They have Birds also of all sorts very many, but Fish in such abundance that a great part of the Natives are entirely fed by them. But of all these we shall speak in their proper places, I will add no more here but this, that the Description of old Finland or Scritofinnia by the Ancients is the same which hath bin given here of Lapland; to confirm what I said before that these Countries differ only in name, and not in nature and situation. We come now to its Division.