Home  »  library  »  prose  »  Lapland Observations

C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Lapland Observations

By Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778)

From the ‘Lachesis Lapponica’: Translation of Sir James Edward Smith

JUNE 11.—Being Sunday, and a day of continued rain, I remained at Umœa.

June 12.—I took my departure very early in the morning. The weather was so hazy I could not see the distance of half a gunshot before me. I wandered along in a perpetual mist, which made the grass as wet as if it had rained. The sun appeared quite dim, wading as it were through the clouds. By nine o’clock the mists began to disperse, and the sun shone forth. The spruce fir (Pinus Abies), hitherto of a uniform dark green, now began to put forth its lighter-colored buds, a welcome sign of advancing summer.

Chamoedaphne of Buxbaum (Andromeda polifolia) was at this time in its highest beauty, decorating the marshy grounds in a most agreeable manner. The flowers are quite blood-red before they expand, but when full-grown the corolla is of a flesh color. Scarcely any painter’s art can so happily imitate the beauty of a fine female complexion; still less could any artificial color upon the face itself bear a comparison with this lovely blossom. As I contemplated it, I could not help thinking of Andromeda as described by the poets; and the more I meditated upon their descriptions, the more applicable they seemed to the little plant before me,—so that if these writers had it in view, they could scarcely have contrived a more apposite fable. Andromeda is represented by them as a virgin of most exquisite and unrivaled charms, but these charms remain in perfection only so long as she retains her virgin purity; which is also applicable to the plant, now preparing to celebrate its nuptials. This plant is always fixed on some little turfy hillock in the midst of the swamps, as Andromeda herself was chained to a rock in the sea, which bathed her feet as the fresh water does the roots of the plant. Dragons and venomous serpents surrounded her, as toads and other reptiles frequent the abode of her vegetable prototype, and when they pair in the spring, throw mud and water over its leaves and branches. As the distressed virgin cast down her blushing face through excessive affliction, so does the rosy-colored flower hang its head, growing paler and paler till it withers away. Hence, as this plant forms a new genus, I have chosen for it the name of Andromeda.

Everywhere near the road grew the Mesomara or herbaceous cornel (Cornus suecica, very minutely described in Fl. Lapp., ed. 2, 39; see also English Botany, v. 5, t. 310).

All the little woods and copses by the roadside abounded with butterflies of the Fritillary tribe, without silver spots. The great dragon-fly with two flat lobes at its tail (Libellula forcipata), and another species with blue wings (L. Virgo), were also common.

Various modes of rocking children in cradles are adopted in different places. In Småland the cradle is suspended by an elastic pole, on which it swings up and down perpendicularly. The poorer Laplanders rock their infants on branches of trees, but those of superior rank have cradles that commonly roll from side to side. In the part of the country where I was now traveling, the cradles rock vertically, or from head to foot.

Close to the road hung the under jaw of a horse, having six fore teeth, much worn and blunted, two canine teeth, and at a distance from the latter twelve grinders, six on each side. If I knew how many teeth and of what peculiar form, as well as how many udders, and where situated, each animal has, I should perhaps be able to contrive a most natural methodical arrangement of quadrupeds….

June 15.—This day afforded me nothing much worthy of notice. The sea in many places came very near the road, lashing the stony crags with its formidable waves. In some parts it gradually separated small islands here and there from the mainland, and in others manured the sandy beach with mud. The weather was fine.

In one marshy spot grew what is probably a variety of the cranberry (Vaccinium Oxycoccus), differing only in having extremely narrow leaves, with smaller flowers and fruit than usual. The common kind was intermixed with it, but the difference of size was constant. The Pinguicula grew among them, sometimes with round, sometimes with more oblong leaves.

The bilberry (Vaccinium Myrtillus) presented itself most commonly with red flowers, more rarely with flesh-colored ones. Myrica Gale, which I had not before met with in West Bothnia, grew sparingly in the marshes.

In the evening, a little before the sun went down, I was assailed by such multitudes of gnats as surpass all imagination. They seemed to occupy the whole atmosphere, especially when I traveled through low or damp meadows. They filled my mouth, nose, and eyes, for they took no pains to get out of my way. Luckily they did not attack me with their bites or stings, though they almost choked me. When I grasped at the cloud before me, my hands were filled with myriads of these insects, all crushed to pieces with a touch, and by far too minute for description. The inhabitants call them Knort, or Knott (Culex reptans), by mistake called C. pulicaris in Fl. Lapp., ed. 2, 382.

Just at sunset I reached the town of Old Pitheå, having previously crossed a broad river in a ferry-boat. Near this spot stood a gibbet, with a couple of wheels, on which lay the bodies of two Finlanders without heads. These men had been executed for highway robbery and murder. They were accompanied by the quartered body of a Laplander who had murdered one of his relations.

Immediately on entering the town I procured a lodging, but had not been long in bed before I perceived a glare of light on the wall of my chamber. I was alarmed with the idea of fire; but on looking out of the window, saw the sun rising, perfectly red, which I did not expect would take place so soon. The cock crowed, the birds began to sing, and sleep was banished from my eyelids.