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Vol. 11(11), pp. 11-16The McAllen International Orchid Society JournalNovember 2010

An Expanded Outline of the Life of Linnaeus (Section III, Part 8)

R J Ferry

With references from Pulteney (1805), and other sources.
Linnaeus's Lapland Exploration -- The Route North
(Part two, diversion 2: Kvikkjokk to Sørfold to Rörstad & return to Old Luleå)
(map figures & distances courtesy of Google Maps)

Fig. 1. Approximate direct routing from Kvikkjokk to Rörstadt, Norway.

Thus far, Linnaeus's travel had been easy. He had journeyed via boat, upstream on the Lule River, with layovers at various points. Now, at Kvikkjokk, the hiking would begin. The map (Fig. 1), shows the nearly-most direct route.

The easiest route for Linnaeus to take would have been to follow the river to its headwater point, and then proceed westerly along the southwestern shoreline of the large lake close to the border, but most likely his actual "walking route" continued as directly as he could travel, terrain permitting. After crossover the Sweden-Norway border Linnaeus would go to Bonnåsjoen, the nearest population center, and then continue southwest, first to Sørfold and then to Rörstadt. His trek would take him not just through snow-covered mountains, but country where settlements were sparse and glaciers were not uncommon.

As Linnaeus left Kvikkjokk, he set out to climb Mount Vallevare, whose height he estimated at about 8,000 feet. He wrote that as he climbed its slopes he felt he was entering a new world, and that as he climbed higher he did not know whether he was in Asia or Africa, "for the soil, the situation and all the plants were strange to me. All around me were snow-covered mountains; I was walking on snow as if it were mid-winter. All the rare plants which I had seen before and rejoiced in were here in miniature; indeed there were so many that I feared I was taking away more than I would be able to deal with."

Linnaeus's actual journal entry was not devoid of some exaggeration, but his description of this alpine scene was fairly accurate:

"Here there were no more trees -- nothing but mountains, each one bigger than the last and all covered with frozen snow. There was no road, no track, no sign of human habitation. Summer's green seemed to be banished, driven down into the deepest valleys. There were hardly any birds other than Alpine Ptarmigans running about in the valleys with their young.... ...I climbed to the highest point to see the midnight...sun...Then I sat down to sort and describe the plants I had collected (he lists thirty), oblivious of the passing of time, so that my guide had to remind me that we still had thirty-five or forty miles to go to the next Lapp tent and that if we hoped to get any reindeer meat we would have to hurry. So we continued, up hill and down dale, to the right and to left, across snow bound mountains, with the going becoming each moment more difficult. There were loose stones everywhere."

Fig. 2. Overview of terrain from Kvikkjokk (tag A) to Rörstadt, Norway (not tagged).

A clearer look at the terrain is shown via the satellite figure. Kvikkjokk is tagged "A" with Rörstadt on the coast at a point on one of the inlets (Fig. 2).

Later, it was at Vallevare (on the return journey) that Linnaeus collected another species of Andromeda--known today as Cassiope tetragona. In his Flora Lapponica, he describes the episode as follows:

"At midnight, if such I may call it when the sun never sets, I was walking rapidly, facing the icy wind and sweating profusely,...but always on the alert, when I saw it as it were the shadow of this plant, but did not stop to examine it because I took it to be an Empetrum. A moment later, however I suddenly thought it might be something new, and retraced my steps. I would again have taken it for an Empetrum had not its greater height made me examine it more carefully.

I don't know what it is that at night in our mountains disturbs our vision and makes objects far less distinct than by day, for the sun is just as bright. But from being near the horizon its rays are so level that a hat affords no protection to the eyes. Moreover, the shadows are so extended, and by gusts of wind made so confused, that things not really a bit alike can hardly be told apart...

The Andromeda was over, and setting seed, but after a long search I managed to find a single plant still flowering; the flower was white, shaped like a lily of the valley but with five sharper divisions."

Ed. Note: How many times has every botanist (amateur or professional) had a similar experience of walking, looking, overlooking, and then being alerted by something subconscious to stop and go back to look at more closely--and not just "look at" but observe-- what was missed while walking, but not really "missed" by that "sixth sense" of the serious worker? Of such are made some of the delightful moments of field explorations.

Linnaeus's diary notes an encounter with the small Alpine ptarmigans. The birds were there with their young, and when Linnaeus picked up a chick, he noted the mother kept flying around him, "so that I could easily have caught her,... A hundred times I could easily have killed her had I not reflected that to do so would be to leave her tiny young one defenseless. So I gave her back her son."

After several hours of walking (hiking!), Linnaeus and his Lapp companion reached a Lapp tent. The tent was a simple wooden cloth-covered framework with the floor overlaid with reindeer skins, hairy side uppermost. There were sixteen people there, lying naked. They washed themselves by rubbing themselves down, not up, and did not dry themselves. They cleaned their bowls with their fingers, spitting water out of their mouth on the spoon, and scooped out their boiled reindeer milk which was thick like milk-and-egg soup, and very strong.

In the morning abut 2,000 reindeer came in and were milked by both men and women, who knelt on one knee. Linnaeus remarks that he was given whey to eat, and that it tasted good and strong, but his appetite was spoiled by the way the spoon was cleaned, for the husband took water in his mouth and spat on the spoon, then cleaned and dried it with his fingers. He also noted that "the wife cleaned with her fingers the bowl that held the milk, licking them after every stroke."

On another visit with a couple of mountain Lapps Linnaeus described a grey-haired old woman with a wrinkled face, bleary eyes, and horny fingers. She wore a silver belt and her skirt came no lower than her knees. Beside her sat her young husband of about thirty-eight "who had been married to her for about ten years since for the sake of her reindeer."

The following day, as Linnaeus and his Lapp guide continued, there was a heavy hailstorm. Linnaeus, not adequately protected against such cold, borrowed the gloves and reindeer-skin jacket of his guide (who was presumably left to shiver). They continued on and it grew late with no sign of a tent. In fact, it became obvious that the Lapp guide, now far from his home, was completely lost. However, they eventually came upon fresh reindeer droppings, which--after a few more miles--led them to a dwelling. A subsequent writer, Norah Gourlie, who spent a winter with the Lapps and knew the country well, says Linnaeus must have come down to the south-eastern angle of Virihaure and the mouth of the River Staloks.

They rested in the tent for a whole day. Linnaeus spent his time writing up his notes on reindeer, making drawings, and observing local customs. He noted that when his guide entered, he put his nose close to the person he wanted to greet, as if he intended to kiss him. Linnaeus asked whether they actually kissed, and was told no, that they only put their noses together, and that it was only relations who greeted each other in this manner. In fact, the Lapps lay cheek to cheek, not nose to nose.

For another two days, Linnaeus and his companion were joined by another and continued across the mountains that divide Sweden from Norway. Both men were glad to make the journey at Linnaeus's expense so they could buy brännvin in Norway. Linnaeus refers to these mountains as "the Alps" and he alleged them to be 'more than a Swedish mile high' which would put them a good deal higher than Mount Everest. The trek was not without problems. On one occasion Linnaeus fell into a crevasse and had to be pulled out wet and bruised by two men with ropes. At last they came to the watershed, and there, far below them, green, beckoning, and looking deceptively clear, were the foothills and coastal plain of Norway. They descended, and Linnaeus later noted the slope was so long and so steep that when they reached the bottom he felt as though they were still descending. Nevertheless, he noted that reaching the bottom was a real relief to his tired body!

"I came from cold freezing rocks down into a warm and shimmering valley. I sat down and ate wild strawberries,...instead of snow and ice I saw green plants in charming meadows,... I had never seen such tall grass anywhere before,... instead of wild weather there was a wonderful smell of flowering clover and other plants. O formosissima aestas! Oh how beautiful is summer!"

That evening they reached the coast at Sørfold, and one of the Lapps, who presumably had never seen the ocean before, scooped up some sea water and was puzzled to find it undrinkable. They were put up by a shipmaster, and for his part, Linnaeus was delighted to sit once again on a real chair, drink cow's milk and eat delicious Sebastes arinus (Norway haddock; rose-fish) 'which tasted almost like salmon'. Linnaeus was thoroughly worn out, yet the two Lapps--one fifty and the other nearly seventy--who had carried his baggage all the way, seemed "fresh as paint" and immediately began romping together and running around. Rosén, back at Upsala, had asked him to try to find out why the Lapps were so swift-footed, and now Linnaeus thought upon the problem. He thought there was probably not just one reason, but many, although their heel-less boots might be the most important. A meat diet might be another, and the fact that they ate in moderation whereas 'Finnish peasants cram themselves with turnips, those of Scania with as much flummery (a sweet sugary pudding) as they can hold, while the Dalecarians gorge themselves till their bellies are tight as drums,... Lapps are always small and slim; I never saw one with a big belly. Milk also helps to make them active'.

In addition, Linnaeus mused, why also were Lapps so healthy? Pure air and pure water, he thought,... and well-dressed food, eaten cold. 'They do not spring upon it with boots and spurs', that is to say rush at it as soon as it come off the fire,... tranquility of mind,...they are not jealous, they never squabble, moderation in eating, and drinking also, because brännvin was not easy to come by; a Spartan upbringing; and their meat dies, 'for carnivorous animals are long-lived'.

On his first day at Sørfold the sea was very rough, and Linnaeus was probably more than thankful that the long expedition he had planned to make to the Lofoten Island to study the Malstrøm; that dangerously strong current later made famous by Jules Verne (which wrecked many a fishing boat) was pronounced impossible. Instead, Linnaeus spent the time searching around on the beach, observing and drawing crabs and jellyfish and whatever else caught his eye. He returned to find his two Lapps had not only filled their reindeer bladders with brännvin, they had also imbibed it in such quantities that they were dead drunk!

Fig. 3. The route south, from Sørfolden to Rörstad.

The following day the water was calmer and he was taken down the Sørfolden by boat, to be landed at evening at Rörstad (Fig. 3), near its junction with the Norfolden, where he was the guest of Pastor Johan Rask and his 'quite remarkably beautiful eighteen-year-old daughter, Sara.' Rask was a much-traveled man, having been in the West Indies as well as Africa. He had published an account of his journeys in which he described various fishes and plant he had seen. Rask, first gave his guest a rather frigid reception, but soon warmed to him, while Sara confessed that 'she had never expected to meet an honest Swede' but here was the exception that proved the rule.

The visit was a tremendous success! Linnaeus was overwhelmed by Sara's beauty. Linnaeus was royally entertained. Sara gave him various recipes for making bread (including one for what we now call Ryvita), and, at his departure, he was given a fine and valuable venue's shell by her father.

Two days later, on 15 July, Linnaeus set out from Sørfold on his return journey. Although he was reluctant to leave Sara, he was eager to be off. He had found the Norwegian coast very relaxing, but as soon as he was back in the mountains his languor vanished. He was convinced that mountain air provided a far better health cure than did the fashionable spas, which were often low-lying and which encouraged over-indulgence in food and drink. Obviously, he was far ahead of his time in advocating Alpine resorts!

The return to Luleå was 'the mixture as before'. Linnaeus returned by approximately the same route he had come. There was the ascent into the mountains, followed by the trek across the cold and slippery rocky alpine terrain to the headwaters of the Lule River, and then downstream. At the end of July he reached Luleå and was again the guest of Pastor Unnaeus.

Fig. 4. The route from Luleå to Torneå, eastward across the northern shore of the gulf of Bothnia.

This time his stay in Luleå was short. In early August he was off to the north and east, to Tornea as he worked his way around the Gulf of Bothnia (Fig. 4).


Ed. Note: one wonders, a few centuries later, about how much influence raw natural selection played in the lives of the Laplanders. What was the infancy death rate in their harsh environment? How much might be attributed to simply that the strong survived, and only the strongest of these survived? This was an era when much of modern medical science had yet to be developed.

Copyright © 2010 R J Ferry