Day 34: Traditions and Updates

This week saw the beginning of one line of work, and the continuation of another. We began work with some small logs that are part of a global study looking at decomposition rates – on Tuesday morning we collected the logs for this year’s measurements, and Wednesday afternoon we made the initial measurements before leaving them in the drier for the next few days. It’s quite incredible to think that we helped in a study that is being performed globally. Tuesday afternoon’s excursion was to collect some beetles (which, if I recall correctly, were Phratora vitellinae) from young aspen trees that will be later used in an experiment on the GM aspen seedlings back in the greenhouse. We also gained a valuable insight into the “fish people’s” work on Tuesday morning, and how their catch, tag, and release projects operate.

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Yesterday also happened to be Midsummer’s Eve, as the Swedish celebrations of this holiday always occur on the Friday between June 19th and June 25th. The weather was lovely and sunny, matching the warm atmosphere that surrounded the festivities. The day started with wreath making, which we missed out on until Charlotte decided to give it a shot later in the day. What we were in time to see was the dancing around and raising of the maypole. Whilst at Västerbottens Museum, we also ate some traditional sour bread and had a look at some of the Sami structures. 

Midsummer’s Eve also coincided with the update of Pokémon GO’s GYMs, meaning I was once again on my bike, catching and battling with the pocket monsters much like I was last summer after the launch of the game.

Day 27: More of Umeå

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It’s been a quiet few weeks since I returned from Gällivare, which has left me with plenty of time to explore the city of Umeå and experience life here. A few days after my return, it was the weekend of Brännbollsyran – a music festival that has grown quite large in recent years that also sports a tournament of Brännboll (rounders) during the daytime. As well as the official event, there are many unofficial happenings that occur over the weekend, one of which was an outdoor DJ basically on our doorstep. After meeting some more wonderful people at pre-drinks, we arrived the party outside our apartment and I ran into some friends I met the week before! A coincidence that made the night even greater. There was a slightly harrowing part of the night, however, where we entered what we thought to be a regular party bus, but was actually full of Swedish nationalists. A Swedish-speaking friend clocked what was happening (as they understood what the bus-people were shouting), then led us swiftly back off the bus and explained the situation.

Back in the lab, Charlotte and I had been tasked with transferring the previous year’s insect collection from their containers filled with glycol to specimen jars with ethanol – tedious work, but important nonetheless. Another production-line-esque job was the transplanting of aspen seedlings from agar to soil. Charlotte and I switched roles of uprooting and replanting a few times so we each got the full experience and, working together with another researcher, we completed this task pretty swiftly. I found this much more enjoyable than the insect bottling, and really quite rewarding – I look forward to seeing the plants grow during the next few weeks.

 

 

 

Around a week ago was when I got my first pang of longing for home. It hit me that, after being in Sweden for around 2-3 weeks, I was really missing Ormskirk – a town I’ve grown to love – and my university friends that live there. After being surrounded by them since September 2016, this was probably the longest I’d gone without seeing them. I know that the two months of summer I have before (hopefully) heading out to the US will have to be spent seeing at least a few of them. This was also around the time of the snap general election and the unfortunate events at London Bridge.

A problem that we didn’t encounter in Gällivare which struck me the other day in the field was that of mosquitoes (and other flying insects). I can’t stand them. I was warned that there would be many, but I was not ready. The incessant buzzing of the flies as they whizz past your head, the omnipresent cloud of mosquitoes in your vision and the occasional bite together made it an unbearable experience. Next time I will be adequately equipped with a head net; hopefully, that will lessen the torture of the mosquito cloud, but will, unfortunately, do nothing to the sound of flies as they barrage obnoxiously close to my ears.

Snapchat-630975932Back to exploring the city: I went into the centre of town to witness the last part of the Swedish Gymnasium graduation – a parade with students on floats fitted with birch bundles, handmade banners, and music. It’s quite a sight coupled with their unique graduation caps and other traditions. That week I also experienced a BBQ by the lake, where BBQ means open fire in a concrete container whilst balancing food on sticks. Having such fire pits available to freely use allowed that event to take place a lot easier than a BBQ in the UK, and was really enjoyable. Another aspect of Sweden which I was informed about but not prepared for was the price of a drink in a bar, it rivals London on New Year’s Eve!

Day 13: A Taste of the Field

Well, my wishes of seeing reindeer have been granted! Whilst driving to and from Gällivare, where we were to set up some window traps to collect invertebrates, we spotted a few herds. It was quite a long drive, roughly a seven-hour trip including a lunch break. The day after our arrival, Charlotte and I took a hike up one of the small mountains nearby – we originally had our eyes set on the larger mountain, but Charlotte rightfully deemed it too great a task for a single morning.

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An assembled window trap in the field.

After lunch, we then set out into the field proper, marching through snow not for recreation – but for science. Needless to say, it was an exhausting day, made even more so by the fact that I checked out of my hostel at 3am the previous day due to being woken by an extremely loud snoring man! We covered a lot of ground and managed to get all the traps up that we needed to – a very productive day. Unfortunately, I was struck by a nasty cold the following day, so I stayed in the cabin and assembled the remaining traps. I’m glad I was able to be of use inside rather than out that day – I fear I would’ve only slowed the others down had I been in the field considering my state. In the end, it only took those two days to put up all the traps, with us waking early to travel back to Umea on the following day.

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Before heading up to Gällivare, however, Charlotte and I had coffee and pizza with two of the postgrads at SLU, beside Nydalasjön – a beautiful lake. It’s been nice getting to know people who live here, especially other students. I’ve learnt valuable things about the surrounding area, including but not limited to reputable tattoo parlours, revered local clubs, and really good pizza. Also, by this point I’ve become familiar with the wonder that is fika – and I love it.

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Day 4: Just Getting Started

Deciding to take the cheapest flight available also meant dealing with the longest layovers possible – and three separate flights. In total, Charlotte and I spent about 3 hours in the air and about 25 waiting for the next flight. This did, however, mean we got the chance to take a good look around Copenhagen. We walked around the city, visiting the botanical gardens and walking up to see The Little Mermaid which – after a quick Google – I discovered has had her head sawn off twice, and also been exploded off her rock. She’s quite the target for political activism it seems. After a long day of walking, we found as comfy a spot as any (four chairs in one of the terminals) and decided to sleep. Not the best night’s sleep I’ve had, but actually not the worst.

The old glasshouse at Copenhagen Botanical Garden

The next layover in Stockholm was around 5 hours – too short for us to comfortably leave the airport. I’ve got to say, terminal 5 of Stockholm airport is lovely: great seats, plug sockets and desks, a whole array of shops and restaurants… It’s a shame our flight was from terminal 4, which turned out to be a further distance away than we assumed. Fortunately, security wasn’t busy and we made it to our gate with plenty of time to spare – but we were panicked for a moment! I decided to take a nap on the plane to catch up on some lost sleep, and only really woke up when we were touching down – but Charlotte described Umeå as being surrounded by forest, something I’ve seen for myself after the few days I’ve spent here.

Sunset over the runway from Copenhagen airport

It’s been a quiet first week, having been in on only Monday and Wednesday so far, but everyone I’ve met so far has given us a warm welcome. We visited one of the closest experimental sites on Wednesday, taking a look at where some of the data the university has collected came from. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to see any moose (despite finding evidence of them), but I’m hopeful we’ll spot one, or at least some reindeer, in the coming months.