Groundwater discharges to the surface of the earth in the form of springs. Springs are where brooks begin, and brooks, in turn, form rivers and lakes. The water that erupts from the ground has the same temperature throughout the year: in summer the water is cool and refreshing, and, in winter, it keeps the spring from freezing over. The Sámi word for a spring is gáldu.
In Lapland, there has been no need to carry drinking water along, because it is available almost everywhere in the environment. Traditionally, water from brooks and spring water that flows out of the ground have been considered the best types of drinking water. Spring water is cool and fresh even in hot weather. When you drink from a spring, you need to blow on the surface of the water first to clean it. The Sámi used to have special straws made from the shinbone of a goose, rabbit or sheep for drinking in places where it was impossible to scoop the water or where they feared that the water could carry insects into their stomachs. Everywhere, clean water has been the primary factor keeping people in good health.
The Sámi have also used springs for preserving food. In summer, moving water kept fish and cloudberries cool, and, in winter, unfrozen water prevented foodstuffs from freezing. Even milk could be stored in springs for the periods when no fresh milk was available. When stored, the milk turned into cultured buttermilk, and such mushy milk was later mixed with coffee.
In many cultures, natural springs are considered sacred sites. In Estonian folklore, they have been holy places and even the Estonian word for a spring, ailikas, means “sacred”. The word is derived from “heilig”, a Germanic word for “sacred”. The three Ailikas fells of Utsjoki – all considered sacred by the Sámi – have probably got their name from the same word. The best-known sacred springs of the Sámi are Sulaoja (Suttesája) in Utsjoki and Raaskaltio (Rássegáldu) in Norway. Both places abound in Angelica (Angelica archangelica ssp.), which has been considered a holy medicinal plant. The spring in Sulaoja discharges about 32,000 cubic metres of water in a year (400 litres per second), and it is the largest spring in Finland.
Springs have been inhabited by the spring sprite, Čahkalákkis. Kerttu Vuolab, a Sámi author from the Teno Valley, writes as follows about the sprite living in springs:
Čáhkalakkis, the spring sprite, is a Sámi sprite that guards a treasure: it has silver and gold coins in its head and stomach. It’s a playful creature, and, therefore, it can be caught, for example, with the help of a reindeer fur boot. You undo the fur shoe and take the lace and hide in a bush, holding the end of the lace. The creature notices the shoe and creeps inside it. It sits peacefully in the fur boot, playing with the lace. It starts to wind the lace around itself, saying: -“I wrap and wrap, and keep on wrapping.” Finally, it has wrapped the whole lace around itself so that only its head is visible. Now it can be easily caught. You only need to go and embrace the spring sprite, and open the treasure lids in its head and stomach. But you must remember that taking everything makes you fall prey to the curse of greediness; such arrogant behaviour will just bring you bad luck.
Springs are also found on the bottoms of lakes, and, in such cases, they can create natural holes in the ice in winter. Large springs that stay open through the winter and are hidden under the snow can be dangerous both for reindeer and people. There are numerous springs in Finland, and, in Lapland, their number is especially high. More than 20,000 springs have been marked on the base maps of Finland. Many springs have been destroyed as a result of building roads, for example.