Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Maidens of the Northern Sky - And The Christmas Kitten

We went up to Tromso recently. As far back as I can remember, to see the Northern Lights was a dream - as indeed it probably is for most people. There were enough vague attempts on different occasions - in the wilds of Canada, remote corners of Norway, in Finland - but it had never worked out. This year, it was going to happen if planning and careful calculation could have anything to do with it.

Gosh, North Norway, you do do the festive season well!

The streets of Tromso were snowy, the decorations were simple and heartfelt, and everyone was jolly and full of the spirit of goodwill.

Of course the yarn shops were visited, what do you think? Yes, despite the determined vow that 2012 will be The Year Of Using Stash And Only Stash, advice had been sought from dear friend Else, and armed with her list, each one was ticked off in turn. And turn about. And again. Isn't it lovely to go from one yarn shop to another and then back to the first and then think of something you saw in the third - or was it the fourth?

This window was crowded with the most wonderful handmade dolls, each and every one dressed up in hand knitted winter clothes! The lady in the rocking chair at the bottom right-hand corner is knitting on tiny wooden needles, while the rest of them are rejoicing in their warm jackets, caps, breeches snow suits, everything. Alas and alack, I only saw the kits for making up the bodies of the dolls after the shop had firmly shut for the night - but if any kind Tromso-ite wants to ship me one, I'll repay in full and then some!

At this time of year so far north it only gets to dusk-light in the middle of the day but that's no big deal. Or not if you're only visiting for a few days anyway. I can see that it might get a bit tiring if you have to endure several months of it. One man said that when they finally get a glimpse of the sun for ten minutes or so - around February, I think - they punch the air and shout 'Yes!!!' Makes our solstice seem quite a gentle affair.

Speaking of which, did you happen to watch the Newgrange solstice on TV? It was a bit of a non-event there this year, with cloud cover preventing the sun from penetrating the ancient structure, but I was watching it at my desk, with one eye on our own sunrise outside the window, and was rewarded with a ray of bright light right on to my keyboard. So, although Co. Meath didn't get the solstice sunrise, West Cork did. So there!

Up in Tromso, every toddler wore its own sturdy snow boots, and even small dogs donned suitable footwear.

Doesn't this little fellow look smart in his mackintosh and red boots? Despite the woebegone expression, he was the jolliest dog alive, giving us many greetings and welcomes to his home town. He came originally from Madrid, said his owner, but had adapted very well to the far north.

We took the cable car to the top of the mountain overlooking the town.

It was breaktakingly beautiful up there, with the wildness of the snowcovered hills all around, and, far below, the quiet fjord and the lights of the town, itself a remote outpost in this region of ice and snow. Around three in the afternoon you get a sort of after-sunset effect in the skies which is so lovely you stand looking at it for far too long, until you realise your feet are frozen and your hands are blocks of ice.

Worked even faster on the extra-long wristwarmers in a sumptuous blend of violet alpaca and silk (well all right, I didn't actually say I didn't buy any yarn, did I? It's not 2012 yet, is it?). And yes, I had to take my gloves off to knit. So not too much got done on the actual mountainside. More in the cafe where hot chocolate was temptingly available, and in the cable car going and coming.

It's at night that things get going in Tromso. For the locals, it's having a jolly time in bars and restaurants (I have to say, Norwegians, that the price you charge for beer can induce heart attacks in visitors from less prosperous countries, although I fully appreciate that you earn more, so it all evens out) but for those in search of the elusive Aurora Borealis, the normal going- to-bed time becomes the wrapping-up-and-going-out-again time.

A minibus picked us up and took us way out north of the town, into a dark and still world of snowy fields and fjords, with no city lights to pollute the natural skies.

There was a traditional tepee (the Lappish name is, I think, lavvo) where you could shelter if the cold got too much.

This picture was taken with a wide angle lens and a flash, but in reality it was a dark and incredibly cosy place, with the fire of birch logs blazing in the centre, and reindeer skins spread on the benches around the edge. You sat in there, with other faces just visible across the dancing flames, drank hot chocolate (well, what did you want us to do? Starve?) and realised, dimly, how many must have sat in such shelters across thousands of years, grateful for the warmth and the companionship of others while outside the wind howled and the snow fell. It was a very good feeling and one that has been tucked away to be brought out and re-lived at many times in the future, perhaps at night, when sleep is elusive.

But guess what occurred here in West Cork at the solstice! We'd just come back and were sorting things out by the car when we heard this pitiful cry in the hedge. 'Strange bird' said DH. 'Kitten!' cried I, dashing over and throwing myself down to look. Nothing could be seen, and the cry ceased abruptly.

Fretted about it all night. Next morning we heard it again and this time I burrowed deep into the hedge while DH went further up on the other side. And nervously, cautiously, it came out.

Not quite a baby kitten but a kitten cat for all that. Young indeed, still not fully grown, in excellent condition, with an unusually thick tail for a smooth cat. Huge golden eyes, and very very nervous. It cried, circled round us, and then bolted as we tried to coax it closer.

Cutting off DH's protestations even before they surfaced, I headed for the kitchen, warmed milk, snatched the feeding bowl from whichever dog had been unwise enough not to empty it, and placed offerings underneath the hedge. Coaxed again, but the kitten-cat stayed well out of reach.

Half an hour later, both dishes were polished clean. That evening, the next gift offering was placed slightly closer to the house, where we could keep an eye on it. She fell on it as though she hadn't eaten in weeks.

I put a box underneath the rocking chair on the porch, with a warm blanket in it, and hoped for the best.

Next morning, Christmas Kitten came running with cries of delight as I brought out her food. I stayed very still, and she actually walked around me twice before daring to rub against my ankles and utter such a loud purr that she vibrated all over.

It took three more meals before I could stroke her gently, but once that formality was out of the way, feline natural curiosity took over and The Cat Came In!

Now in a house of dogs this can create just one or two awkward moments.

Here is Mehitabel conveying her approval of the festive decorations. And there is the top of Sophy's furry head, advancing with malice aforethought.

Retreat of Mehitabel to behind a safe doorway. Advance of Sophy.

Sounds of crashing, thumping, bouncing and heavy breathing (Sophy of course - cats never get out of breath, had you noticed?)

Mehitabel decides that perhaps after all the garden is a safer place to be. (And yes, you're right, DH and his camera were enjoying themselves thoroughly. No pop star ever got the paparazzi treatment like Lone Christmas Kitten!)

For now she's roosting in a snug nest made of an old sleeping bag on the rocker in the porch. Meals are regular, and the amusement occasioned by suspicious dogs just enough to keep a girl on her toes. We do not know what is going to happen. It's like that with Christmas Kittens. They may have come just for a quick visit, they may be bored with their present posting, they may be passing through, they may need shelter and solace for a time. (well, now that you ask, some proper cat food was laid in as soon as the shops reopened).

I don't know if she's called Mehitabel. She may be Arabella or Fairycake or Lucy Clare for all I know. She hasn't seen fit to tell me yet. But I thought you would like to share the tale of the Christmas Kitten. And those of you who have lost a beloved pet recently (Chewyknits, for one, LilyMarlene another) I thought you might feel just a little better knowing that somewhere else in the world, a small stranger arrived in their place. It's not the same, I appreciate, but it's a reflection of the turning wheel, isn't it?

All right, all right! I heard you, way back up the page. Did I or didn't I see them? I was saving it to share as a solstice greeting. Up there they call them the sky maidens waving their mittens. I sent them greetings from all of you.


Freyalyn said...

what a lovely post - northern lights and special Christmas kittens. Blessings to you and yours...

Katie K said...

Didn't you think variegated yarn when you finally saw it?

Thanks again for a lovely post that transported me to a better internal landscape than was there before.

The best of New Years to you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post - enjoyed!

Your Christmas kitten would be called a "tuxedo" here, and, I understand, that is what is meant by aJellikal cat in the musical "Cats". Her adoption of you is very similar to our Archie's adoption of us, and he is also a tuxedo cat. Interestingly, he is as vocal as our Siamese cats. I love a talkative feline!

Anonymous said...

You have such a lyrical way of describing t hings. I so enjoy it! Thanks for all you share with the rest of us! your posts are always well worth the wait!

knitski said...

Great post, love the northern lights photo!

How about mittens for a name just like your Norwegian Northern Lights or Solstice?

Happy New Year!

Sally said...

Oh, My, Jo! Christmas Kittens and Northern Lights, all at once. What a wonderful start to my day - opening one of your lovely missives. Please tell DH that picture of you and the northern lights jerked my heart and made my eyes glisten - it was that lovely! Happy Christmas to you and Richard, dear friend.

Else said...

Thanks for sharing. :) Hope the two of you have a nice Christmas and all the best for 2012.

Anonymous said...

I am a cat person, so I love your Christmas Kitty. It has been my life's dream to see Stonehenge and the Northern Lights. I saw Stonehenge this year. I will keep my fingers crossed for the Aurora Borealis. Wonderful post, as always. Good Yule.

lilymarlene said...

I see some dying coming on with a Northern lights theme!!!
How lovely to finally see it. Congratulations. And I'm tickled pink about the cat. Hope she stays with you. They do seem to know how to keep dogs in check, don't they?

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post - Northern Lights, Norwegian yarn shops, and a Christmas cat. And a dachshund in snow boots too!
-- Gretchen

Anonymous said...

I love hearing about your travels and I so enjoyed seeing your Christmas kitten. I have a cat, similarly marked, going on 15 years of age now. Christmas Kitten, Mehitabel, clearly looks like she's found a home.

Wishing you and yours a splendid 2012!


krayolakris said...

Just lovely...and thank you for taking in the Christmas kitten/cat! That warmed my heart.

danielle said...


Wouldnt that make an awesome sweater/shawl/socks!!!!

Angeluna said...

Now I'm totally jealous. I've tried several times to see the Northern Lights and it never happened. My grandfather gave me a book on them when I was very little and I have dreamed of seeing them ever since. They are spectacular. Did thy "sing"?

Mehitabel is adorable. I hope that works out.

Dez Crawford said...

Another heartwarming post, my friend. We lost our two eldest cats this year and within months two kittens in dire need fell across our path. One looks very much like yours, right down to the extra thick tail and golden eyes. I do hope Christmas Kitten is staying for keeps. The Cat Goddess sent one your way. It is never an accident.

The Northern Lights are no less than stunning. I am left nearly speechless by the photography. Were you able to hear them crackle as well, as I've heard is sometimes possible under the right conditions?

Tricia said...

A Christmas Day Kitten and a black and white to boot. How lucky and sweet for you. I keep thinking that Leslie needs a kitten and here it pops up on the other side of the world.
Terribly jealous of your northern lights.

GrannyPurple said...

Such a privilege to be chosen--even if only for a little while--by a cat! Our tiny cat laid her paws on my heart in a parking lot just over 5 years ago, and has never let go. She is chatty, aggressively affectionate, and controls the 2 dogs who were in residence when she arrived. #3 dog, who came as a rescue just over a year ago, is another matter, but I'm sure things will eventually work out.

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year Jo! What a beautiful pictorial visit to Norway. Those winter blues of snow and sky!I could get lost in gazing at them. Looks like a magical time all in all.

angelina said...

hi there jo,
i am looking for a celtic memory yarn in a silk blend in a specific colorway i saw recently.. do you sell the yarns?
thanks angela

KiniaCat Crafts said...

I am catching up. Apologies for belated comments. Thank you for sharing the Northern Lights adventure!
When I saw the picture of you knitting in the cold, I thought "She needs fingerless mitts". It appears you had similar thoughts and had already taken action. Are the wristwarmers done? Did Mehitabel adopt you permanently? Has Sophie adapted well to the new fur-sib?
A belated Happy Holidays and Blessed New Year to you and yours!

Linda B said...

Have you and your husband ever thought of putting out a calendar? We use calendars as artwork in our house and I can't think of anything more beautiful than some of your husband's photos of Ireland accompanied by your inimitable prose.

Aussie Maria said...

Just found your blog and I loved the photos in Norway - lucky girl to visit
BTW - it was the word yarns, Celtic and knitting that grabbed my attention :-)

Else said...

We have lately had the most wonderful aurora borealis in this area. First I watched it with tonz of tourist on the Hurtigruta from Tromsø-Hammerfest last Sunday. Then two days ago I and hubby drove from Kirkenes to Tana and the auora was even bigger and nicer. I`m thinking about you every time I watch it. You should have been here watching it with me.

Neuloosi Ny said...

Hi there! I ran into your blog while searching a possible Irish learning-on-the-job company from the web. I thought to send you a message and ask if you could give me some help.

Me and my two friends (who run the Neuloosi Ny practice company with me) got this great opportunity to do our practice period abroad. We are especially interested in knitting and dyeing but it seems a bit difficult to find a company/artist who does that kinds of things. Do you happen to know any company that could fit us?

Ireland as an country has always been our number one country where we would want to visit.

And by the way, the Finnish word for teepee is "laavu". :)

Dez Crawford said...

Checked in hoping for a new post. Hoping Sir Catlet is adjusting well?