Saturday, 12 February 2011

Finland 2009

I am used to living in an environment where there are locks everywhere. At home, there is a keypad and entry-phone system. At work I have to either deal with security guards or use swipe cards, sometimes even when going between floors in buildings. From this, I am transported to an island where the doors don’t really lock at all. In theory, someone can quietly arrive by water, tie up and visit us in the dead of the night unhindered by locks. We can see one other cottage across the water, but usually even in summer, it is empty. The Russian border is just across the water. The urbanite in me felt very exposed.

This vulnerability was initially fed by the uncanny silence. Standing in a vast landscape, there were often occasions where there was no sound. I could see across water to distant islands but had seemingly gone stone deaf. The birds have, even in August, mainly departed. Only a lone woodpecker, a couple of ducks and some seagulls remained to brave the start of a Finnish Autumn. But they were slow to make themselves known to us. The leaves on the trees can be as still as in a photograph. Without any ambient light, the stars show up vividly.

At home, behind my locked doors, it is never, ever silent. The river that runs under our building is an ever present sound, even with the windows shut.

So, my first night in this alien, but entirely natural landscape, felt uncomfortable. I woke in the middle of the night from a dream where intruders gave only momentary notice of their presence as the floor just outside our door creaked. The dream, a sub conscious preoccupation brought some fear to the surface and had me listening, straining into the silence for so much as a bat squeak.

That fear dissolved in daylight and I slept normally after that, welcoming the quiet. We relished the idea that moose might turn up. Larger than a horse, but not a danger to humans; unless you happen to hit one in your car, they do inhabit the island like shadowy hermits. Their presence is proved by moose-flies that like to crawl through your hair, but those tiny visitors never stray very far from their natural host. Occasionally, droppings are found close to the cottage, or prints found in the sand by the shore, as they come down at night to drink. We did find hoof markings, but of deer, always at a particular spot where one tree provides overhanging cover right to the edge of the lake. We wanted to see moose, perhaps another year.

We did however eat some. Licences to shoot them are only granted to groups of hunters, never to a single marksman. This speaks of the sheer size of the beasts. No lone hunter could hope to carry away such an enormous animal. So a pack of hunters take on a single animal and our table benefited; delicious, dense meat devoid of any fat: a rich red wine of a meat.

The modern commercial world has intruded into the idyll.

Behind the cottage, which is really a group of four timber buildings, there is a deep forest. For over 40 years our friend has foraged amongst the trees gathering mushrooms and many berries including lingonberries. He walked deep into it to the well, navigating by familiarly placed trees, to find the natural source of fresh water. Then without warning, in the spring, machines arrived, great areas of trees were demolished and logged for selling and now, behind a shallow fringe of trees there is a large tract of churned earth, devoid of foliage. The well is now difficult to locate in a featureless landscape. The moose will have retreated deeper into the untouched forest across the football pitches of mangled soil. Something will grow back, but even if replanting takes place, the trees will take 60 years to find maturity.

For our friends, that landscape has been altered for the lifetime of even the youngest of them. There is also a plan for fishing that goes way beyond the current man in his boat laying nets to bring home a few kilos of sardine-like moyku fish.

The earth turns, and even here life changes. Winter will come soon; the land will sleep for a while under its seasonal protection of thick snow and ice. Next year the birds will return and the moose will again drink at the lake. The churned land will start to repair itself.

No comments:

Post a Comment