A few years ago, I travelled to Karasjok, in Northern Norway, to research my novel Revontuli. The novel is based on true stories from the region, and I was eager both to better understand the setting and to further research events in this part of the world.
On research trips, there are often surprises. It’s one of the joys of researching fiction. A surprise on your trip can actually change the course of your novel. One of the surprises on my first trip to Karasjok was dogs. In Karasjok, dogs are everywhere. I brought it up with the woman who showed me the Old Church. She laughed heartily and told me that in the old days, for services in the church, there was always a ‘dog passer’. This inaptly named man was responsible for exactly the contrary. His job was to ensure that no dog could make his way into the church. He stood at the door with authority and shooed away all four-legged interlopers.
During this stay in Karasjok, I was fortunate enough to share the company of a jovial journalist named Roger. I had stumbled on Roger through common connections on the Internet I met through my research, and he very kindly volunteered to serve as interpreter for my trip to Karasjok, given that I spoke neither Norwegian nor Sami. Roger met me at the airport in Lakselv and followed along for several days while I met with locals and visited museums. He set up precious meetings, translated, and in the evenings, in our shared hut at Sven Engholm’s dog sled retreat, he would read me Norwegian books about the war in Karasjok, translating as he read.
One day driving back from an early afternoon meeting, the sun was already beginning to set, and he drove quickly along the country road, when I shouted out suddenly: “Look out!”
We both saw him: a large brown and black dog crossing the road, probably a German shepherd. Roger braked and we both winced as we heard and felt the bump at the front of the car. Roger pulled his car to the side of the road, and I leaped out to see what had become of the dog. Roger was right behind me. We walked several hundred feet back down the road, but there was no sign of the dog, and no tracks in the freshly fallen snow.
About three hundred feet back, instead of a dog, we found a woman on a chair at the side of the road. We stared at each other in amazement and walked forward. She sat in silence, watching the road, a pile of chopped wood at her side. Her head rocked a little as if she were singing a joik, but she said nothing.
“Hello,” Roger said in Sami. “We hit a dog. Is he yours?”
She smiled broadly and flashed a wide gap between her front teeth. “There’s no dog here.”
“You don’t have a dog?”
“No, and I didn’t see you hit one.”
Roger and I shrugged our shoulders and turned as if to go back to the car. She leaned forward in her chair and said simply: “Come inside.”
We sat in her sparsely furnished kitchen, sharing stories as the sun dropped from the sky.
“Did you live through the war in Karasjok?” I asked through Roger. “Of course,” she answered. “Oh! The stories I could tell!”
She provided a wealth of detail on life during the war in Karasjok, what was hard and what wasn’t, what was memorable and what wasn’t, and in the end, I wondered whether we hadn’t set up the meeting exactly for this purpose. But we hadn’t. It was the ghost dog. And to this day, I do not know how it is that Roger and I both felt the bump at the front of the car, hitting a dog that left no trace but brought us exactly where we wanted to go.