In all honesty, I didn’t have a concrete idea of what Sweden would be like when I was moving here. Or if I did –that it’d be probably just like the Netherlands, just a little bigger – boy, was I wrong. It wasn’t until almost a year after living here that I realised just how wrong I had been.

Early June 2019, I found myself with two friends on a train about to travel to the north of Sweden. The landscape rushes by. Yellow seas of rapeseed fields throughout Skåne, the most southern tip of Sweden, one of the very few areas where the soil is fertile enough for agriculture in Sweden. Soon the landscape changes to what extends through almost 70% of Sweden: Dark spruce and pine forests with forest floors of moss-covered rocks. The three of us watch the window as children the laundry machine.

Twenty-six hours later, we arrive in Ammarnäs, a tiny village in a valley between two towering walls of mountains. Though paved roads literally end here, the local saying is that this is “where the road begins”, which we soon discovered to be true.

Though it might just be because I’ve grown up surrounded by flat and artificial Dutch terrain, mountains have always had a special place in my heart. You can feel the ancientness – or “OER” (pronounce: “Uhr”) as my friend and I dubbed it – of this mountain range in Lapland. You can see the deep tracks of glacial sheets and the mountains’ roundedness due to tens of million years of erosion that it has experienced.

When you want to reach a vantagepoint looking out over this ancient beauty, you’ll have to climb above a treeline consisting of graceful and flexible birch trees providing some shelter for small mammals and birds. At first sight, the world you find above it may seem cold and barren. However, a closer look shows a lot of life: A hissing lemming, looking like a large and aggressive black and yellow hamster; Long tailed skua’s flying at your head trying to scare you away from their territories; fresh tracks of a wolverine in the snow, hungry perhaps and looking for an easy kill; a mother moose guiding her calf through the tundra to the forests on the other side plentiful in fresh bilberries; a vole swimming through the marshes; an angry owl you accidently chased away from its nest on the ground; and the tiniest willow you have ever seen. You can’t help but be amazed at all the uniquely adapted organisms thriving in such a harsh landscape.

I can’t think of any other place where I have been more at peace than in this raw and wild landscape. Apart from one single trail that went through our fieldwork area, the only trails you’ll find are made by reindeer. Although Lapland is such a large area, you will still encounter plenty of reindeer, equally large in number. One early morning when crawling out of your tent, still half asleep, but awakened by some mysterious jingling bell, you may see a large herd of reindeer led by their belled matriarch climbing a mountain slope.

Since Sweden upholds Allemänsrätten, meaning that anyone can put up camp anywhere for one night, you can place your tent at any place you deem perfect. Perhaps, if thirsty, next to a freshly appeared mountain stream from the snowmelt making its way to the valleys. However, when trying to cross such new streams, though there are many ways how to do this, it can be quite tricky. Will you find an old enough snow bridge, thick enough ice or little marsh islands? Will you have to throw a few rocks in or just wade through the icy cold streaming water? Since I had no experience whatsoever with such landscapes, I felt very blessed to have my friends with me, to save me multiple times or motivate me with laughter.

When we weren’t sleeping up in the mountains, my friends and I were staying at the research fieldstation in Ammarnäs. There, we were surrounded by researchers with so much enthusiasm and love for this arctic environment and passion to protect it. After being out on the tundra, back at the station during the weekly pea soup and punsch evenings, everyone would share stories of their mini-adventures and listen to what everyone had experienced and knew about this extraordinary landscape. Because of everything I learned there from the environment and all the inspiring researchers, an excitement arose in me consequently and an urge to join in trying to preserve this incredible piece of our planet.

“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” – Baba Dioum (Senegalese Poet & Environmentalist)