HS in Sodankylä | Almost 90-year-old Aino Kiuru lives alone in the middle of nowhere and walks to work every morning: “Let's live and die away”

Almost ninety-year-old Aino Kiuru takes care of reindeer alone in the middle of nowhere. “Who else is idle but me”, he states.

Almost ninety Aino Kiuru takes care of his reindeer in the heart of winter alone, but when the sun comes out again, life changes.

“Thirty-six. Of course, it's waiting for forty now,” says Kiuru, after looking at the thermometer in the window sill at the beginning of January in the village of Kersilö in Sodankylä.

88-year-old Kiuru goes to the reindeer fence like almost every day. A dislocated shoulder can ache when it's cold. Now there are no aches.

“You have to iron the clothes a lot,” he admits.

Aino Kiuru prepared to visit her reindeer fence in Sodankylä's Kersilö on January 2, 2024. In the bitterly cold weather, Kiuru put on a sweater, a work coat, a fur cap and thick boots in addition to underwear.

Let's jump over Nelostie and to the reindeer fence. According to Kiuru, seven kilometers is enough. A plowed road leads to the gate. Reindeer are loitering here and there in the packed snow in the freezing cold. Many people seem to be interested in a familiar person, but a stranger who is accompanying them raises suspicions.

Kiuru ended up here twenty kilometers north of the church village of Sodankylä because of a man. Today, Kiuru, who has worked as a midwife, keeps a fence and reindeer here.

FIRST the reindeer mistress got her touch as a child in Ranua. One summer, Kiuru got a whim and took birch fleas with his brother to the reindeer found in the forest.

“It had to be done in secret from my mother. The reindeer were there in the forest and they were hungry,” he says.

On the home farm, reindeer were not cared for, but birch kerpu – i.e. bouquets made of twigs – had been made all summer for the animals, horses, cows and sheep of the home farm.

Kiuru graduated as a midwife in the mid-1960s from the Midwifery College in Helsinki, from a course intended for nurses. Since then, Kiuru has not lived in the south. After graduation, he lived and worked in Posio, Kemijärvi, Pudasjärvi and finally ended up in Sodankylä via Ranua.

“Yes, I have traveled around the world quite a bit”, says Kiuru.

“At first we talked about why that midwife came here to take care of the reindeer,” says Aino Kiuru. Today, Kiuru feels that he has become accepted in reindeer husbandry circles.

A midwife's career included, among other things, many home births. For the rest of her career as a midwife, Kiuru worked in Sodankylä, but in order to end up in Kersilö, Kiuru had to make one more round to the south.

Father was wounded twice in the wars and was treated for a long time in Stockholm. There he contracted tuberculosis. He was brought to the tuberculosis sanatorium located in the village of Muurola in the then rural municipality of Rovaniemi.

“I decided that when I finish school, I will go to Muurola to take care of my father,” says Kiuru.

He applied for a job in Muurola and got a job. Surprisingly, the father called and said he was at home. Kiuru had to go to Muurola because he had promised to work there.

In Muurola, she met her future husband, who had been infected with tuberculosis during his time in the army.

“We dated for five years, and then I came here to Kersilö”, says Aino Kiuru.

REINDEER Aino Kiuru ended up taking care after moving to Kersilö. Tuberculosis had left its mark on the husband, Kari Kiuru, and Aino Kiuru helped her sick husband with the reindeer work.

According to Kiuru, at the beginning of the reindeer herding career, the loss of sables was great. Two of the six foals could return from the summer pastures.

Half a century ago, it was rare for women to take part in reindeer herding, and local reindeer herders would admire a woman who was working with reindeer. The larks felt that the woman's participation in reindeer husbandry was natural.

In addition, the reindeer in Kiuru have spent their winter in the “reindeer fence”, i.e. the reindeer enclosure. The practice aroused disapproval at the time.

“They thought it was a bit like the chatter of a southern midwife. Yes, they were quite crooked at the time, but I was working at the same time, so the fence was a necessity for us,” says Kiuru.

Reindeer wintering in the fence are fed, which reduces reindeer mortality. In the spring, the reindeer that wintered in the fence also give birth in the fence, thanks to which all fawns can be marked.

“The number of reindeer increased and we were quite jealous of that.”

Reindeer management organized by fencing has become more common as a result of, among other things, difficult winter conditions.

During the summer, the reindeer go further north to graze, but according to Kiuru, the vast majority return to the fence when autumn comes.

Kiuru feels that today the community has accepted the former midwife as a reindeer owner. Keeping reindeer in a fence in winter has become more common.

“There are reindeer herders here as well, who keep the reindeer in the fence all winter, and it's definitely good for the reindeer,” he says.

Today, Sodankylä already feels like home in Kiuru. When Kiuru goes to the reindeer fence, another reindeer herder often comes there.

“There they haggle and talk about all kinds of things”.

IN WINTER The Kiurus tending their reindeer in the fence can be said to have been ahead of their time. In this millennium, the amount of winter feeding of reindeer has increased in Lapland. A researcher at the Natural Resources Center Jukka Tauriainen according to this, the culture of reindeer feeding has changed only in this millennium. Feeding costs have almost quadrupled in the Sodankylä area since the first years of the millennium.

“At the beginning of the millennium, there was more emergency feeding to keep the reindeer alive through the difficult winter. Back then, hay was used, now complete fodder. There is a clear change in the culture,” says Tauriainen.

Tauriainen reminds that in addition to the increase in the amount of feeding, the costs are affected by the change in prices.

“Reindeer feed prices sometimes follow the prices of agricultural complete feed”, says Tauriainen.

According to Tauriainen, when the reindeer are herded and fed over the winter, suddenly changing conditions do not affect the costs of reindeer care in the same way.

Kiuru ties the rope of the reindeer fence with a thin string with his bare hands in -36 degrees below zero.

Ophthalmology has weakened the vision in one eye, so Aino Kiuru will focus on crossing Nelostie to her reindeer fence on January 2.

SIX years ago, Aino Kiuru became a widow. Even before that, the reindeer fence has tied him to Kersilö in the winter, because Kiuru's husband got sick a lot and couldn't always go out for reindeer work.

In recent years, reindeer husbandry has started to take more of Kiuru's strength. More feelings of loneliness have crept into the dark months of winter than before.

For the past three years, he has lived without his own car. Kiuru gave up his driver's license after turning 85. He was startled when the older member of the family “fumbled” with the car. Now Kiuru can get to the center of Sodankylä once a week with a service taxi.

“It's too little to deal with people only once a week, no matter how you talk to the reindeer”.

Once the reindeer work took the attention so much that the boy's birthday was forgotten. The boy's wife reminded about it. Kiuru called his son and thought he had become crazy.

“The boy said that you're not a crazy person yet, but when you're alone there, you might become one,” Kiuru says and grins.

Kiuru clearly believes that social life improves a person's health.

“If I'm still here year after year, I might become a fool”, he estimated.

Kiuru moved to Kersilö after meeting her husband at the tuberculosis sanatorium in Muurola. For Kiuru, who grew up in Ranua, even Kersilök feels like home these days.

TO KERSILO a newcomer has appeared in recent years, the lynx. From a reindeer owner's point of view, a feline is not a welcome addition to the living room. According to Kiuru, the beast has killed a dozen reindeer from his fence this winter.

“It has taken this fabric of ours into the apartment. In the beginning, it ate newborn baby bears, when it was a little one at the time,” says Kiuru.

In the village, together with Kiuru, it has been concluded that last winter, judging by the tracks, the undergrown Lynx was also accompanied by an adult lynx, perhaps a mother or another relative. A hunting permit has been obtained and attempts have been made to catch the lynx, but with little success. It knows how to mess up its tracks.

“He's such a cunning fellow that these boys can't get him. It's a wise animal,” says Kiuru.

The reindeer owner is of course upset by the animal's actions. Kiuru hopes that society will help with the beast problem.

However, Kiuru harbors animal hatred.

“An animal eats when it is hungry. It's a law of nature. I can't think it's a terrible creature. Humanity above all, both with animals and people”, says Kiuru.

FROM THE REINDEER FENCE Aino Kiuru returns to his home with heavy steps. Kiuru has been well all his life and has not been sick at all.

Kiuru only had to see a doctor when the intraocular pressure in one eye increased. The surgery that corrected it took away the sight in one eye. Once, Kiuru's hand went out of place. It was put back in place and told to wear a bandage for two weeks. Still, Kiuru went to the reindeer fence to take care of his reindeer.

Kiuru cannot say the reason or secret of his health. The family has been long-lived. Even my father, who was wounded twice and had tuberculosis, lived for a long time in working condition.

“We're just the same long-lived residents who live and die.”

When Kiuru and her husband started to acquire reindeer, many reindeer herders worried about keeping and feeding the reindeer in the fence in winter.

Before next winter, Kiuru plans to come up with some change. Maybe a move to the center of Sodankylä, to your own apartment, is ahead. On the other hand, Kiuru feels responsible for the reindeer, which his relatives who work for a salary do not have time to take care of in the same way.

“Who else is idle but me. I have acquired them in the past, so I am somehow responsible for them. You can't get anywhere from that.”

IN THE WAR VILLAGE kamos ends at the turn of the year and the days get longer. When the sun hits Kiuru's yard and window, the lonely feeling disappears. It is more comfortable to go around the seven kilometer reindeer fence in clear weather.

In early summer, the reindeer calve, the calves are marked and the reindeer herd goes to summer pastures. That's when Aino Kiuru also gets to travel around Finland, greeting coworkers accumulated over decades of working career.

“When this sun starts to shine, this life in Lapland will change. We are like new people. It's absolutely true.”

Aino Kiuru's work site in Sodankylä Kersilö at the beginning of January.

Kiuru visits the reindeer fence almost every day. Reindeer arrive at the fence in the fall and go their separate ways after moulting in the summer. In between, taking care of and feeding the reindeer binds Kiuru to live in Kersilö.

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