Reindeer in the Arctic

real live reindeer

See the reindeer? In a valley near Longyearbyen, Svalbard.

I’ve always wanted to go to Svalbard, a Norwegian territory in the High Arctic. Even before I read The Golden Compass, which takes place in a parallel universe in which Svalbard is the kingdom of the armored bears. If you haven’t heard of Svalbard, you might know the name of its main island, Spitsbergen. It was a stopover for whaling ships and a home to walrus hunters in the centuries before Norwegian trappers started overwintering there. Now it has a perfectly normal Norwegian town with kindergartens, a grocery store, and a lot of stuffed polar bears.

When I found out I was spending three months of last year in northern Sweden, I thought, well, that’s the Arctic, close enough, and pitched a story to Smithsonian about some scientists who study reindeer on Svalbard. They agreed to send me.

It turns out that northern Sweden is not exactly close to Svalbard. The most direct route is a three-hour train ride west to Narvik, Norway, then a four-hour bus ride to Tromsø, then a flight north for the last 600 miles. I chose the option with less of a chance of being ruined by train delays: flying the very long way around, from Kiruna south to Stockholm, then west to Oslo, then north to Longyearbyen. It took me three flights to cover the distance from D.C. to Memphis.

Anyway, my story is out now. Read about the adorable reindeer in the March issue of Smithsonian or online here. They used two of my photos, too–one of the scientists chasing a reindeer and one of a reindeer in a net.

Reindeer Games

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