6am in the cabin. I get up in the dark, long before the grey light arrives, and step out into the farm to start the morning feed. Here and there, the halo cast by my head torch picks out the shadows of the dogs as they dart from their kennels ahead. Pairs of eyes glint back at me.
This winter I have traded in my London life to work on a husky farm in the far north of Finland. I work with a dozen other guides in all weathers to train and care for more than 150 dogs. It’s rewarding, but of all the things I miss (including, but not limited to: lazy Sundays, make-up, 24-hour supermarkets, dry socks, salad) the loss that I have felt most keenly is the lack of sunlight. I had read that winters here could be long and black, and I was ready for the physical challenge, but it was difficult to prepare for the emotional toll of living in darkness.
The Arctic Circle, an imaginary line around the globe marking 60 degrees north, indicates the region that experiences in winter a period of at least 24 hours when the sun does not rise above the horizon. Here in Hetta, 300km north of that line, the sun dropped below the horizon on 6th December and has not been seen since.
On days when the sky is clear, we can look forward to a few hours of colour in the middle of the day—shades of sunrise and sunset, but never the sun. Usually we see that deep twilight blue, sometimes pink and purple. The day they said the world would end, I watched a great splash of crimson spread across the sky as though the planet was burning away. But today the clouds are thick and snow is falling. What little light gets through will be grey. As dark as my mood.
The depressive effects of the darkness are well known in this region. In Finnish, the word kaamos—literally, “polar night”—is also used to describe the despondency that follows. Elsewhere in the north, the Inuit people describe an extreme winter depression, perlerorneq, which means to feel “the weight of life.” The nature writer Barry Lopez describes some…