This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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One country, two seas

dkbeachWith its brackish water, its smattering of islands between Finland and Sweden, and limited and slightly altered flora and fauna, the Baltic Sea is an inland sea and far from an ocean. Every seven years a huge saltwater swell pushes up the salinity gradient a notch, and slowly the rivers trickling down into the sea change it back towards sweet.

The animals and plants living in the Baltic Sea are the sturdiest, most adaptable ones that don’t mind the in-between conditions. Sweetwater perch and pike thrive in the sea. Seagulls and large cormorants don’t mind the smaller fish to eat. The herring has become a bonsai variant, called Baltic herring in English and something entirely different from herring in Swedish and Finnish.

Denmark is the gate to the Baltic Sea and its two coasts look like two separate worlds: its West coast (above) looks like any ocean shore, while its East coast (below) looks like a lake, which is what the Baltic Sea coast mostly resembles.

How convenient: if you live in Demark just pick your kind of seascape. dkbeach-2(Denmark, May 2018)


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Bridges across Denmark

storabaltSteaming across the Great Belt Bridge, I cannot help but think of how progressive and practical the Danes must be. And that they love bridges. There is the Øresund bridge (the one featured in the TV show; nearly 8 km long), the two Great Belt Bridges (each nearly 7 km long), the Storstrøm Bridge (over 3 km long), and 7 other bridges each spanning more than one kilometer in length.

Yes, it is difficult to get ship traffic through. Yes, some even collide with the bridges. But in the end they make people’s lives so much easier – and the content for a hit television show too, apparently.

(Store Bælt Bridge, Denmark; May 2018)


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Interlude: primroses gone wild

springflowersThis is what happens when you buy a couple of yellow primroses for your garden and leave them to flourish over 20 years, remembering each year not to mow the lawn until their bloom is over. Among the primroses are white wood anemones, blue scillas, and the offspring of a few purple corydalis that I planted as a kid. I found them in the local woodland and knew they were endangered – but I wanted them anyway. Well guess what, they are far from endangered in the garden of my parents.

(Helsinki, Finland; May 2018)


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What it takes to appease the divine

offeringTens of thousands of baby chickens died last night. Each Balinese house sacrificed one along with a bigger evening offering placed outside of the gate, by the road. Some houses had deemed pierced eggs to be enough, but most houses slaughtered a baby chicken. A holy man dressed in a white gown and turban squatted by the offerings at each house, making hand gestures and plucking fluff from the scared, cheeping chick and spreading it over the offering. Then he splashed holy water around. I did not see how the chickens met their fates but as I walked to yoga class this morning I had to dodge a tiny, dead, decapitated chicken by nearly every house.

I understood the ceremony was to pacify the gods after the earthquake. Unfortunately the lives of the poor innocent chicks were not sufficient, as we experienced another substantial quake today: M6.2 or 5.9 depending on who measured it, and Lombok was again the epicenter. The gods are obviously not content. My heart hurts for the scared baby chickens – as it also hurts for the 300+ people who were lost in the quake and the tens of thousands left homeless.

Balinese Hinduism is strongly influenced by animism and animal sacrifices are common. It is even in the name of this island: the word “bali” actually means animal sacrifice. Indonesia is a Muslim country and Muslim law does not allow animal sacrifices (or gambling for that matter) but here on Bali it is allowed as a way to keep people satisfied.  All sacrifices are linked to highly ritualistic practices, including one cockfight per year per temple (this is oftentimes not the case as cockfights and betting are a blooming practice for example in Ubud). Most of the times, smaller animals such as dogs and chickens are sacrificed, but sometimes the gravity of the situation calls for goats and even buffalo. The Balinese believe that animals sacrificed in the name of gods will be rewarded and reborn into a higher order of being as their way of departure from this life was sacred.

Once one has got to know the peaceful nature of the Balinese today, it is difficult to imagine that their ancestors were fierce tribal warriors, a little like the maoris of New Zealand. Sometimes even human blood was shed. Not always an enemy’s, either, as a successful cremation ceremony for the dead of the village would include nothing less than the sacrifice of a few women. Thankfully cremation was (and is) arranged only once every few years, and collectively for all deceased ones.

When it comes to life and death, Bali strips one to the core of the matter.

(Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)