Korvatunturi - Savukoski, Lapland
Well, everything's packed and loaded, the reindeer are ready for harnessin’, mullin’ around talkin’ about the trip, complainin’ about the lack of clear timelines and shiftin’ points, the route's mapped out and the fat man's nearly ready to sing. This is the time I like best; the hard work is behind us and the excitement of the journey just ahead. I find myself reflectin’ on how all this came to be and I sometimes wonder if I did the right thing. Hell, it's become a monster of a tradition I can't stop now if I wanted to. Best to enjoy this little space in the bubble to energize and philosophize.
Aww, look at him over there, fat as a walrus, couth as a baboon, pretendin’ to read Santa letters from the kids. If they only knew. Oh, bejesus, why do I bother? I suppose it can all be blamed on sophistication of beliefs, changin’ devils, wish fulfillment, evolution and just plain greed.
It was just about two thousand years ago I first heard of the lumpy eejit from the icy North. My own clan was in trouble with shiftin’ allegiances confusin’ the simple folk, and new religions obscurin’ the old. I'm a Gnome. I used to be a Hill Gnome durin’ the time of the Picts and the Grooved Ware People, them that built New Grange, and then I graduated, along with the rest of my kind to become a House Gnome when the Druids and their High Priests came into the Auld Green Isles, with their manners and their fancy ideas. No more livin’ in a hole in the ground, no siree, tall, hide tents and wooden halls for them! The Grooved Ware lot faded into memory and the blue painted Picts were given notice to bugger off or decorate the crossbeams with their naked skulls. So, off they buggered and a new era began.
We used to be content livin’ from hand to mouth on scraps and leftovers from the Pictish waste piles, and sometimes we'd steal what we wanted. Then, when the Druids burst onto the scene, we had to work for our table scraps. Steal a maiden here, or cast a witherin’ spell there, crack the head of a rival thane in the next settlement with the strategic lop of a tree limb, or hex a ghost with a bindin’ for a new Arch Druid, who needed that little extra pizzazz to show his power. But we were paid well, and we got to sleep under the flagstones, near the fire. And their philosophy was palatable enough to swallow. All in all, not a bad six hundred years. But then came the Romans. Don't get me started on the Romans!
Everything changed then, what with their crazy, new, hybrid religion and their habit of stealin’ what fit into their schemes, and outlawin’ whatever else didn’t. It was a confusin’ time when the Tuatha de Danann and others of the Shinin’ Lords were stripped of their powers in men’s eyes and relegated to the realm of folklore. Well where did that leave the likes of me? Scrabblin’ for potato peelin’s, that’s where. What else could I do? I hadda find a meal ticket; and this fabled, hairy giant of the frozen wastes seemed the likeliest pigeon to clip and cage.
The story, as I heard it from a passin’ Troll, was that a mad marauder was playin’ havoc with the lives and livelihood of the snowy peoples of Lapland. The hairy creature as much as held the entire land ransom to its whims; demandin’ recompense in the form of food and gifts for not bashin’ their homes into kindlin’ with its huge ham-sized fists and bitin’ the heads off their livestock. Well no matter which side of the argument you fall on, whether he was justified or not, I know the buttery side of my crust of stale bread when I see it, so I wasn’t about to let such a plumb opportunity slide by while I starved on the cold rocks of the Emerald Isle. I wanted in on this guy’s racket.
And so I packed my spare sock and made for the vast, ice-encrusted floes of the hinterland. With a smokin’ ember in each pocket keepin’ me warm, I flew on the back of a dragonfly o’er the black and choppy channel, past the bracketed coasts of Angle Land and on to the continent. When she let me off on the beachhead in Brittany, I gave the dragonfly my last lump of dried mead and a bit of advice to see her on her way. The dried mead she gladly took; about the advice, I’m not so sure. Ah well, we’ve an undeserved reputation, us Gnomes; of that you can be sure. Not everything with us is quid pro quo. Magmaminity ain’t an entirely foreign word in our little lexicon, you know. Sometimes we do good works for nothin’ in return. It’s been known to happen!
I suppose you could say I was off on a lark, since I had no real plan what to do if I found the creature – only that there was profit to be had for a right thinkin’ sort with a little of the old wherewithal to bring things into a natural confluence, as it were. An idea was tuggin’ at the sides of my brain and I knew if I just let it alone, it would come abornin’ in its own good time.
What I’d heard about the thing was that it was a mean spirited brute, big as a mountain, covered head to foot in thick white fur and owned a mouthful of nasty big teeth and claws to match. How I figured to get a leg up on the horrible beastie, I didn’t have a clue, but I was drawn to the opportunity of a steady livelihood and damn the details. So, off I went, on foot, along the coast edge of Brittany, north through the Celtish and Gaulish lands and up into Geatland, stoppin’ now and again to talk with Trolls, Pict-Shees, lords of the Fair Folk and one particularly comely sprite, askin’ all the time after the whereabouts of the fabled, Joulupukki, The Yule Buck.
And always did they give me the same answer, “You must seek the creature in the northern climes of the icy wastes, for he dens there in a lair of bone and blood.”
Well, of course I turned around and ran right back to the sea intendin’ to hitch a ride back to the Emerald Isle. I’m not proud to admit the thought of comin’ face to face with a ragin’ monster in a lair of bone and blood turned all my intentions of a profitable retirement into ashes on the floor of my brain pan. I may be greedy but I’m no one’s fool but my own.
But, I got to thinkin’ of eons of scratchin’ for crumbs and headed back up north to whatever fate had sewn my name to; a bit off head or shattered bone box, or a tidy livin’ made at the expense of simple folk, as it should be.
Time passes different fer us Shinin’ Folk, so I coulda been walkin’ fer a handful of minutes or just as long as my boot leather held out. I don’t wanna take a stab at it; suffice to say the sun went down as I neared Lapland and stayed down until I came to the settlement of Savukoski at the foot of the Korvatunturi hills. At the time of course - speakin’ of time - I had no idea that sunset lasted the whole day, so it’s a good thing time passes different fer us, ain’t it? Otherwise I mighta been confused.
With the first glint of the new sunrise, I made myself small and nestled in beside a fir cone, at the base of a recently shattered sapling, moved around front of the cone to get the best view of the up-slope of the nearest hill and nestled again, drawin' a tuft of shadow from nearby the sapling, I hid and waited. And I nailed my eyes to a certain depression in the facin' hill. In no time the sun set again and I readied myself to see the marauder at work in his terrorizin' pursuits. As night fell, so did the temperature, I collected and wadded up the deepenin' shadows to cover myself as the boreal night crept up to tickle my ears.
He slunk out of his cave mouth like a guilty intension, and galumphed on stubby, furred legs down-slope toward the sleepin' settlement. Big as they said he was, all abristle with the spiky white fur, swingin' his long arms in a wobbly balancin' act as he loped erratic, with a curious gait – step-step-hop-step – rollin' his huge shoulders as he went. His purpose was plastered on his grinnin' face like a foregone conclusion. Nefarious and disreputable, glowed his big eyes, ridin' above his hooked nose, which in turn sat above a mouth full o’ more teeth than I ever did see in any pie hole at one time. And outta that mouth issued a keenin', rumblin', discordant stream of syllabic solipsism; “Who? Whoo, hoo! Dool, ool ooly-ooo! Aaa-hoo?”
Down into the settlement he drove, hootin’ an whoopin’ an wakin’ the dead with his deep rumblin’ tones. He tore like a wind whipped demon right up to the big hall at the outer ring of Savukoski and stopped in his tracks, heavin’ big breaths, lookin' from one side of the hall to the other, stretchin’ his big neck to see over the roof who was comin’ an once or twice, flappin' his big arms, trailin' waves of fur, as he waited for the ensuin' terror. But nuthin’ happened. Nobody went runnin’ from their homes. Nobody came screamin’ with blades bared to meet the monster. Nothin’ happened at all.
He dropped his chin to his barrel chest, huffed a time or two through his nostrils, “whoo-hoo?-ed in a tiny voice and, flappin’ his arms again, sat down where he stood and began sobbin’ like a baby.
He was still sittin’ there when the sun came up again. I stayed hidden, watchin’ from behind my fir cone, as he finally gathered his hairy bulk together, shivered his big shoulders, stood up, with a final heavin’ sob, an turned his broad back on the cold hearted and disinterested settlement. He slunk away, back up to his cave in the hills, big ol’ head hangin’ down, dejection writ large on his clouded face. As I watched after him, I admit my curiosity was piqued. Whyever was he met with such a dismal reaction from the folk of the settlement?
So I followed, growin' back to my proper size as I went, well over four feet tall, tryin' to keep pace and stay hidden in that bleak, dark landscape. But I shouldn’t have fretted, ‘cause the big lookin' thing didn’t once look back at the offendin’ scatter of huts and houses. Eventually he disappeared into a hole in the hill and, with memories of past warnin's, 'lair of bone and blood,' roilin' in my brain, I crept in after him.
The stench was at once familiar and repulsive. He was evidently still unmarried. He sat, face to the far wall of the cave, mumblin' an' wimperin' an heavin' his great hairy shoulders in time to his wallopin' sighs.
The cavern was deep and dank and dark and cluttered—stuffed is more like it—from cave floor to jagged ceilin', with the worldly goods of the poor inhabitants of Savukoski. There was everything there, layin' in heaps, discarded and seemingly ignored for months on end. There were kitchen utensils, knives, ladles and soup spoons—evidently thrown at Joulupukki to shoo him away—chairs, stools, blankets, bedsteads, bowls and brass candlesticks, fur rugs, whole animal skins and even a sleigh with rusty iron runners.
The assortment of other obviously personal items, from childrens' wooden toys to ladies' combs, brushes and mirrors, was a miser's dream. The poor put-upon people of Savukoski appeared bereft of nearly all personal possessions. It's no wonder nobody came outside when the huge hairy brute came a callin'. There was probably nothin' left to give in order to placate; or to throw in defense of their homes and sorry lives. The buggers were skint.
Remember that idea I was talkin' about earlier in the story? The one tuggin' at the sides of my brain? Well it came to me right then and there; big as life and shiny as a new tooth. If he could get this much from one small village, what could he get, with my help, from the rest of the world?
"Hey, Lumpy," I says to the great wimperin' eejit. "You look like you could use a friend."
He spun around with a shocked look on his round, pink face, and his big eyes nailed me to the floor where I stood. His white fur crept up to surround all but his nose, cheeks and forehead.
"Dool," he asked? "Dooool?"
"Sorry, mate," I answered. "Name's Kip. Kipperkorn ap Danu. I don't know them Dool folks, a tall."
He was stuck in a loop, fer sure. I sauntered into the middle of his cold domain and began to lay out my plans. He sat, slumped and sullen, listenin' (I think he was listenin') to my every word. When I'd finished, I stood, threw me arms out an' said;
"Well, waddaya tink?"
I don't tink he liked my plan. His pink face got all of a sudden red, and he rose to his full height, spreadin' his own, considerable arms out to the sides indicatin' his hoard of treasure, then poundin' hisself on the chest, cryin' over an' over;
"Dool! Hoo, hoo? Dool? Dool, oooly ool? Blub, blubbery-ub."
He was tryin' ta say sumptin' an' I took a wild stab.
"Yew didn't want any o dis stuff, didja? They jess kept givin' it to yew because dey taut yew was tryin' ta rob dem. When all's yew wannid was ta make friends."
"DOOL!!!" He said, noddin' his big head like a woodpecker an' smilin' a great toothy smile. Aw, Jeez, to borrow from the new religion, there goes all my plans of wealth and power.
"Here," says I, "what if we give some of it back? Yew tink they'll be yer friends, then?"
"Hoo! Hoo! Hoo! Dooly ooly ooo!"
Wot an eejit. An I don't know if I mean him or me, because I helped him gather up wot weren't broken an' wrap it in one o the big red blankets an' together, we trundled it down to the great hall on the edge of town. We stood for a little until I realized nobody was comin' out while the great, hairy monster was still around. So, we left the sack of goods and made our way back up to his lair.
Can you imagine my great surprise, my visions of profit, when the next mornin' as the sun rose, we found a bundle of food and a few coins in a small sack, just about halfway from the lair and the settlement? you coulda knocked me over with a bulrush! The townsfolk was thankin' us fer returnin' their goods.
Well, if I got a touch o' the old warm and cozy in me own cold, calculatin' heart, you shoulda seen Joulupukki. The great lump couldn't stop grinnin' an' talkin' to hisself in that scary language of his, an' winkin' at me so's ta make me wonder what went through that great hairy head o' his. An' all through the day—which I tink was a month long, but I ain't good wit time, remember—he went about repairin' an' paintin' and generally makin' all the treasure trove left in the cave, as bright and shiny as new. Of course I knew wot he had in mind, an' truth be known, I could tink o' worst ways to spend a winter. So, I helped him.
All that winter we returned goods in larger an' larger bundles. At one point, I helped him fix up the sleigh, an' we put a fresh coat o' paint on it an' bundled up stools, chairs, pots an' pans, hammers an' saws an' even an anvil wot musta give him a great knot on his head when it hit 'im , but he was a forgivin' sort. An' whenever we got a full sled, we took it down and laid the loot before the doors of the great hall an' quietly stole away back to the lair fer some more repairin'.
An' every time we brought stuff back, we were rewarded with food an' warm tings ta wear an' whenever we brung back toys wot we fixed up fer the children, we'd find little pictures they drew fer us. An' sometimes a note from one or two of the parents, thankin' us fer not scarin' them an' fer givin' them all the nice presents.
I sat him down and drug the story outta him. Seems this wasn't the only settlement he used to haunt lookin' fer friends! It took a while, but I found out that he'd been doin' this fer some time now, some long time, an' there were towns an' villages all over Lapland wot feared the nightly visits of Joulupukki. Some of the stuff we was givin to the folk down the hill actually belonged to folk of other towns! Aw, bejesus an' Annunaki!
That's when we started widenin' our route. Me steerin' the sleigh an' him pullin' it. All over, the strangest thing happened. Stories about The Yule Buck spread from place to place long before we got there, an' instead o' people hidin' behind locked doors, we found brigtly lit yards an' unlocked doors. Well, naturally we put the goods inside the houses, instead of leavin' them on the cold ground outside. An' when we did, we always found somethin' left fer us inside the houses. Sometimes it was somthin' ta eat, sometimes somethin' nice ta wear; but always somethin' nice.
An' the pictures drew by the children were both a treat an' a surprize. In most o' them, ol' Yule Buck was drew as a big, happy, fat man with a white beard, wearin' either nothin' but a fur coat - his natural state, I might point out - or a red coat an' hat. Me? Dey all had me as an Elf - not a Gnome, mind you, but an Elf. At least dey had me colors right - Kerry Green from tip to toe.
So, naturally, the very next time we went on a delivery, he was wearin' one o' the red blankets, cut an' stitched into a snug red suit. An' I'd personally shaved him all over, except fer his chin an' upper lip; an' I'll not go into how long it took, nor how disgustin' it was ta do!
So, time, dat elusive commodity, apparently passed. An' as the years piled up, we, me an' ol' Joulupukki, got right slick at wot we do. There were whole races o' shinin' folk back home an' all over man's new world, just lookin' fer work, Gnomes, Elves, Sprites, Trolls, Fair Folk (fairies) and Pixies (the ol' Pict-Shees), all signed up in countries all over the globe. An' we grew.
We even hired vampires to do the lawyerin' and marketin' fer us. We still get goodies from children all over, but what keeps us growin' is the small cut we takes off the top fer rights an' royalties that only the vampires knows about.
An' now, that time is come again. I'm sittin' out the flights, these days, too much to do here in Home Office. But Joulupukki, (the vampires started playin' around with variations a couple hunnerd years ago an' came up with all that Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Santa Claus stuff. Why waste a good religion? They took wot they wanted from us Fair Folk; it's only right we get a little o' the ol' quid pro quo back.
Lookit him. Still gets as excited as the very first time. Loves to make people happy. Loves to make friends. I wonder wot that ol' fart Freud woulda had ta say?
Never mind. When I look at him, I know the real spirit of the season. It don't come from a bag o' toys, or a new car, or even a pretty song played ad nauseum on the radio. It comes from that great eejit's big heart.
God love the ol' fool.