Those days were now far behind me, a distant memory of the person I was, tucked away like the dozens of utterly useless high-heeled shoes that sat with all my other earthly possessions in a storage area some two thousand miles away in Manhattan.
Freezing cold and tired, I am holding on to a long green tarp, alongside a handful of others, guiding reindeer into an enormous holding enclosure in a remote part of the Norwegian Arctic. A giant buttery moon lies flat against the hard blue twilight sky, so low you feel as if you could easily touch it. It illuminates everything: from the jumpy reindeer moving en masse, a blinding flurry of hooves and poop and antlers, to my warm breath hitting the rimy cold night sky in plumes like a smoker with a phantom cigarette. As I look up at the moon, toes numb in my muddy boots from having stood for what feels like hours waiting for the herders to bring the reindeer in from the tundra, I am struck by the absolute insanity and marvel of life, and of the improbable twists and turns in our stories that we could never begin to imagine. One year ago, a Saturday night would not have involved standing on the frozen expanse of the Finnmark plateau with a family of Sámi herders, watching steaming blood being scooped out of a reindeer carcass as it’s field-dressed by a grunting Sámi man named Odd Hætta with a giant knife. One year ago, I would have been walking through Union Square in New York on my way to a progressively boozy dinner with friends, spending hours talking about their work and my media job, and did you read such and such in the New Yorker, and what show was on at MoMA or what was happening in the increasingly worrying political landscape. And, of course, there would have been talk of relationship problems – and there were always problems – or money problems and how busy everyone was. And then the evening would have slowly unravelled, everyone growing louder and more maudlin, until it was over, faded into a history of Saturdays just like every other one that came before it, followed by a sharp hangover the next day, a raft of emails and stress and worries about everything back in full view in an endless cycle.
Those days were now far behind me, a distant memory of the person I was, tucked away like the dozens of utterly useless high-heeled shoes that sat with all my other earthly possessions in a storage area some two thousand miles away in Manhattan, collecting dust and losing relevance. In my old life, tomorrow I would be heading to City Bakery for an iced coffee, with crippling anxiety about the Monday to come and how I would hang on one more day in a life that was becoming unmanageable to an extent of which no one around me was really aware, unless you happened to be the lucky recipient of a spectacular late-night Laura Galloway Ambien and red-wine phone call.
I was breaking open and falling apart, and to reveal this weakness and vulnerability to anyone might have caused me to die of shame. But the universe seemed to have plans for me, ones that would take me outside of everything I knew, and everything that I thought made me me, to a place where I now think nothing of not showering for three days straight, and Saturday involves helping chop wood for a fence-post, or cutting reeds to dry and braid into shoes for the brittle winter to come, or smoking reindeer meat in a tent called a lávvu while drinking bitter black coffee, the smoke clinging to my hair and clothing and settling into my pores. This is a place where you have to be with yourself because there are no distractions. Only work and nature and time.
Excerpted from Dálvi, Six Years on the Arctic Tundra, Allen & Unwin. Dálvi will be released in the US and Canada October 15, 2021.
Laura Galloway was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is a writer and communications strategist. She began her career at the Los Angeles Times and holds a Master of Arts in Indigenous Journalism from the Sámi University of Applied Sciences in Kautokeino, Norway, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Southern California. An ardent animal lover, she and her partner live with her two reindeer- herding dogs and two cats.
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