Tent Folk of the Far North

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The thickness of paper in books from nearly 100 years ago never fails to astound me and to prevent me from dogearing pages (it feels too much like you’re chopping a tree down when you bend the page corner). I learned about Ester Blenda Nordstrom from a New Yorker piece and got my hands on her book about the summer she was appointed by the Swedish government as teacher to the Lapp people in Swedish Lapland. Nordstrom knows how to tell a tale– the story opens in the middle of a snowstorm raging as she walks with her tribe towards the spot where they will await spring, barely able to see in front of her with the blowing snow.

Coffee and fires abound, life in a tent is made to seem pleasant, and she starts up her school as soon as they reach the settlement spot. Summer arrives with the birds and nonstop sunlight. A ball she brings with her is a source of amazement and amusement for the children she teaches. Her story weaves in cultural observances and sprinkles in a bit of scolding when she is denied a hotel because the proprietor mistakes her for a Lapp who happens to speak Swedish very well. I’m going to track down a few more of her adventure stories.

From the New Yorker piece:

Born in 1891, Nordström began working as a journalist under the pseudonym The Boy and, at the age of twenty-three, wrote a best-selling book that exposed the harsh working conditions of household servants in Sweden. A kind of female Bruce Chatwin, Nordstrom toured around Sweden by motorcycle; hitchhiked alone across the U.S., in 1922 (and wrote a book about it); spent five years exploring Kamchatka (ditto); wrote a series of young-adult novels about tomboys; and, apparently, caused everyone she encountered, male and female, to fall in love with her.