11/26/2011 09:14 am ET | Updated Jan 06, 2012

Sami Herders: National Geographic Looks At Life With Reindeer

Ready for the holiday season? In the far, far north, where the sun doesn't set for weeks, Sami reindeer herders are zipping around on ATVs and snowmobiles moving herds of reindeer around their winter grazing grounds.

From Jessica Benko's report:

Two hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle, near the jagged tips of Norway's crown, the sun does not set for weeks on end during the summer months, and the midnight sun bounces off fields of midsummer snow. The solstice comes and goes, but the Sami reindeer herders are too busy to pay much attention. "We're always in the middle of calf marking at this time," Ingrid Gaup says, referring to the yearly ritual in which the herding families carve their ancient marks into the ears of the new calves. In the Sami's homeland, spread across northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, the notion of time is untethered from the cycles of the sun and is yoked instead to something far more important: the movement of the reindeer.

Sami herders call their work boazovázzi, which translates as "reindeer walker," and that's exactly what herders once did, following the fast-paced animals on foot or wooden skis as they sought out the best grazing grounds over hundreds of miles of terrain. Times have changed. Herders are now assigned to specific parcels of the reindeer's traditional grazing territories at designated times of the year. To make the lifestyle tenable, herders need expensive all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and snowmobiles to maintain hundreds of miles of fences between territories and move large herds in accordance with land-use regulations—even when they clash with the instincts of the reindeer. As Ingrid's husband, Nils Peder Gaup, explains, "Reindeer think with the nose, not the eyes. They go with the wind."

The full article by Jessica Benko appears in the November 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine, on newsstands now.

See the full gallery by photographer Erika Larsen here.

Below, see stunning, wintery photos of life with reindeer:


Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the author as Cynthia Gorney. The full article, available here, is by Jessica Benko.