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.