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Pictures: Screen captures from Visit Finland’s video.
The lady of the automatic response system is repeating the same message: “The number you have called cannot be reached at the moment.”
I’ve been trying to call Tinja Myllykangas, a young Finnish woman living 300 kilometres from the nearest town in the Lapland wilderness, a dog whisperer with 85 sled huskies, who has become famous across the globe after a French photographer Brice Portolano documented her life in a freezing cold of minus 35 degrees Celcius in January.
After digging further, I find a note on Myllykangas’ safari company’s website that she is available again in November 2016.
Bummer. I would have liked to ask her simple questions, such as “What is it like to live in the wilderness?” and “What’s the deal with the dogs?” and “Why is your phone most often off?”
While I would have loved to hear her voice, luckily, she has already answered to the aforementioned questions and more in articles scattered around the web.
Visitfinland.com tells us that Tinja’s home is next to the Muotkatunturi, in the area of Inari and Utsjoki. Her cabin lacks electricity and running water. She cooks her food on a wood-burning stove or outside on an open fire. “The chores never feel like a burden. This is a way of life I chose for myself. I get so much joy and energy from living at one with nature that I don’t feel the need for any material possessions,” she said.
While Tinja grew up with animals as a child, the dogs, which are mostly huskies, are swarming around her because she wanted to help canines that other people couldn’t keep for various reasons. “Sled dogs need a lot of exercise and many aren’t prepared for that. Here, the dogs can do what they were born to: pull a sled,” she said. Tinja also owns horses and even dog wolfs, which means that one of their parents or grandparents was a wolf. According to Tinja, they are very faithful animals and follow the owner everywhere.
Tinja receives several safari requests weekly during winter but she’s not looking for commercial profit. “I like being on my own with my dogs and horses. I think being alone is the most peaceful way of life there is. All this has come out of my love of animals, I didn’t set up a dogsledding business for commercial reasons. It’s about my own love of nature and living out here in the wild,” she said on the photographer Portolano’s website.
Tinja moved to the wilderness in 2008 after living six years in Jyväskylä, where she earned a degree in biology. To her, the urban lifestyle doesn’t compare with having the untouched natural wilderness on her doorstep. “I love the winter. The colder it is, the more energised I get. The darkness isn’t bad at all; even during the polar night, the dark period we call ‘kaamos’, you get a lot of light from the moon and the stars,” she said. For the past two years, she has been living with Alex, a former professional skier, who works now as a race musher.
Portolano, who has photographed many people in the wilderness, recalled in an interview for LensCulture when he tried to get a hold of Tinja but almost quit trying. “Sometimes it can be very challenging – most of these people are rarely connected to their computers and it’s often very hard for them to get back to me on time. Take Tinja for example: I almost gave up after having no reply from her for a long time. Then, two months later, in the middle of winter, I was there, in northern Finland.”
Portolano shot his photo essay “Arctic Love” with Tinja in 20 days. When he arrived in Lapland in early January, the polar night was just ending and the sun was slowly coming back. The first day lasted only 9 minutes. During the 20 days, the maximum daylight available was around one hour.
The photo essay features 16 images with a lovely, dominating blue hue on top. Tinja is portrayed as a strong-willed blonde, with eyes of blue steel, and the viewer gets a glimpse of her life both inside and outside of the cabin. The winter landscape of Lapland is naturally stunning and the grey and white huskies pulling the sledge add some motion and contrast to the white-blue scenery. Some of the pics feature breathtaking Northern Lights.
After looking at the pictures and spending a day researching her, I found the perfect summary of the person Tinja seems to be: “Tinja is the woman we sneakingly all harbour to be: independent, strong-willed, eschewing the modern world’s temptations without self-regard. Her dogs are a testimony to her life’s work,” a visitor at her safari said at the ScanAdventures blog.