Photographer Abbie Trayler-Smith in Norway
We join the Sami people of Arctic Norway at an intense time of year: for the next 2-3 weeks the Sami will be herding their reindeer, who have been roaming free for the summer, down from the snow dusted mountains and preparing them for crossing open waters in search of winter pastures. It is no easy task and the whole community rallies together to corral the animals, marking them by cutting their ears to work out which animal belongs to which family, giving them anti-parasitic drugs, and preparing them for the journey ahead. It is a total mystery to me how they tell which reindeer even have which markings, but this is a talent learned over centuries. Although they may use quad bikes where their ancestors walked on foot, the knowledge and the love of the reindeer is in their blood. I’m taken aback by the energy rushing from the scene unravelling in front of me, and by the harshness of the environment in which they work. It is pelting with rain, which at times arrives horizontally, occasionally turning to hail before calming until the next gust whips up the mud from the floor.
I am wearing approximately 8 layers of clothing, desperately clutching my cameras underneath my raincoat to try and protect them from the elements, and the mud being spattered from the thunder of the hooves spinning around me in the corral. But the Sami seem oblivious to the environment, only caring to make sure the deer are all in order, and calm before crossing the water. Over the course of the week a few hundred deer are moved each day. Asking the Sami how many reindeer they have is akin to asking someone in Britain how much money they have in the bank. The animals are their currency, as well as their livelihood, culture and history.
Ella, our main character, tells me of her family holiday to Turkey this year, which she found too hot too bear, and made her realise beyond a shadow of a doubt that her place rests among the Sami and their deer in the Northern Troms. Often one of the most under-rated pleasures we get from travelling is realising that what we have right under our noses is to be treasured.