A Love Story

The beginning of it all

I was born on a Monday in November in a place called Kiruna, back in 1999. It’s a small mining town in Sweden that lies 145 kilometers above the Arctic circle. It’s so beautiful and so ugly in a way that you can only know if you were born there. The mine – which happens to be the world’s biggest underground iron mine – is the reason the city was born. It lies in our mother mountain, Giron, and is slowly eating up the earth beneath us. That’s why Kiruna has to move. Or has moved, I guess. When I return back in March after being away for almost one year I will return to a city I don’t know anymore. Which is maybe good in some way. Because I changed, and so did the place that raised me. But it also makes me cry.

My hometown with the mine in the background. (Kiruna, Sweden) Photo: Andrés Larrota – nordlig.photo

A love letter to the place that raised me

I grew up under the polar night, the midnight sun and the Aurora Borealis. The climate is hard and so are the people. Every time I’m not there my heart aches for the north. But it’s also a place I had to leave so I wouldn’t start hating it. It’s a complicated love story for sure, because I love it deepest when I’m not there.

I remember thinking when I was younger that we have more sky in Kiruna than any other place on this earth. More air. More atmosphere. I still believe that. But with all that air I still felt like I was suffocating. And that’s why I left.

It shapes you

Just like the people we grow up with shape us, the place does the same. Just more subtly. My parents used to work as hut-wardens in Lapland, along the King’s trail. I took my first steps and said my first words in the mountain range of the north. During those endless summers me and my siblings spent growing up, we had miles and miles of pure wilderness as our backyard. That does something to a child.

To this day I can still feel the sensation of running barefoot on slippery rocks in the river. Eating blueberries and scraping my knees on the rocks. Wiping my little brother’s tears from dirty cheeks. It felt like we had the entire world at our feet. The mountains were our playground. I find myself chasing that feeling now, as an adult. Searching for it in places and in people. The feeling of freedom. Pure and utter freedom.

Me and my little brother in front of our backyard. (Kebnekaise mountain range, Sweden)

A promise to little Sara

I promised myself when I was 10, sitting in my childhood room in Kiruna, that the world is bigger than this. More grand and more beautiful. And I promised her that I would see it all. Experience everything. I kept that promise when I left the north at the age of 20, and then again when I left Sweden 2 years later. And I’m still keeping it when I’m leaving for the PCT in April. Chasing the feeling of my childhood. And maybe, just maybe, will I find it out there.

Little Sara. (Lapland, Sweden)

Craving all the lives I am not living

I feel like I can write page after page about my hometown. But it’s funny how these things work. When I lived there I envied people that came from the south. From Stockholm. But the second I left it I was suddenly proud. I noticed when I started travelling how important it was for me to talk about Kiruna. How I’m not only from Sweden but also from the north. How a big part of me still belongs to that place. And how it shaped me. Even though we have to drive 2 hours just to give birth. How the lack of sun during the winter months makes us all depressed. How people in the local club are dressed in crocs and a jacket from the mine. And the way we consume beer and snus like there’s no tomorrow.

But then. It’s the smell of the first snow. Seeing the sun over the horizon in January after weeks of darkness. Swimming in cold mountain lakes under the midnight sun. And the mosquitoes. Oh, the mosquitoes. Millions of them. And even though it’s so cold outside, you will not find warmer people anywhere else.

My home. (Close to the Singi mountain huts, Sweden)

I can write songs and poems and books about growing up here. But after all this rambling, all I want to say is that I am thankful. Thankful I grew up in a place like this. And thankful that it also made me leave it. Because without that I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be craving all the lives I am not living. And I wouldn’t be hiking the PCT.


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Comments 3

  • John Tupper : Jan 29th

    I felt some much of my own mixed bag of feelings as I read your description of your home town. When I was old enough to go to college, I couldn’t leave my home town in south-eastern Idaho fast enough – I was so happy to finally get out into the real world. But a funny thing started happening, over and over: everywhere I went, I was comparing what I found with what I had growing up in Idaho and seeing how much all these different places came up short. I wrestled with this dichotomy for a decade. I loved the snow, the mountains and even the sage brush in Idaho, but I knew I’d be miserable if I moved back.

    Finally, I was renting skis for my kids while vacationing in northern Utah and the clerk at the ski shop started chatting with me. He found out I grew up nearby and asked if I would ever move back to the area. I was thinking to myself, “how do I answer this question” when I heard myself speaking (my subconscious had decided it was time to lay down the truth). I heard myself say, “I could never move back, but I’ll always miss it.”

    The truth has set me free from all the mental turmoil over whether I should somehow find a way back, though I still live with the longing for home. [I’ve been waiting for my subconscious to say something else profound, but it’s been nearly 30 years and it seems like that’s going to be a one time experience.]

    • Sara Falck : Jan 30th

      You write very beautiful John. Thank you for sharing! I’m glad someone else could relate to the mixed feeling about the place that birthed us.

      • Ani Benson : Jan 30th

        Sometimes there is no place like home….even if we have to find this out when we go away. And Sometimes we do come back….for children, ourselves or to care for an elderly parent. Home is a placeholder for memories, especially good ones.


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