Enter the fairytale woods of Sweden in the middle of winter for haunting encounters with native wildlife – elk, owls, foxes… and the elusive wolf
WORDS: AMANDA CANNING
PHOTOGRAPHS: JOHNATHAN GREGSON
Midwinter in the forest in the deep dead dark of night. Nothing stirs. The land is hibernating, curled up until spring trundles over the horizon and sweeps the earth of snow. Even the lakes sleep, still beneath their thick green blankets of ice. We peer out wide-eyed into the gloom, straining to catch some hint of life out there – conjuring up mysterious beasts in the hulking silhouettes of granite boulders and in the spindly bobbing arms of the spruce trees that rear up around us. Save for the steady poink-poink of ice melting from their branches, all is silent.
And then it comes. A long lingering wail, flying around the trees, rising and rising, louder and louder, before it cracks and fades into a mournful whine, and the forest falls silent again. We draw closer to the fire. Caught by a sudden gust of wind, it crackles and hisses. Marcus Eldh, blonde hair tucked neatly under a woolly hat, clears his throat and laughs, taking a blackened kettle from the flames. “Perhaps the forest is full of human beings howling at each other tonight.”
Marcus has been leading wildlife tours in his native Sweden for over 10 years, taking the curious into the woods of Bergslagen, in central Sweden, in search of elk, beavers and bears. But the creature that exerts the biggest pull is one that has terrorised mankind in fairytales for centuries: the wolf. Marcus has learnt to mimic them from nights like this in the wilderness. Often, they answer his calls with their own. “I’ve heard the wolves howl so many times, and I just feel the urge to reply to them,” he says, pouring coffee into tin cups. “And if they reply again, it gets a bit addictive. I can hear if they sound anxious, but, mostly, it feels like the wolves are having fun and they really like to howl.”
They are quiet for now, though it’s hard to shake off the sensation that they are all around us, watching, ready to slide silently out of the shadows when we least expect it. It takes only a few hours in the woods to realise that we are in their territory, not they in ours.