This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Sturgeons are weird creatures

Sturgeons are weird creatures. These girls are the ones who make caviar – and to whom it really belongs.

Sturgeons used to be everywhere: from the English channel to the Mediterranean, and from the Black Sea all the way throughout Siberia. Unfortunately, because catching one provides food to many, they have been fished to near-extinction.

The species of sturgeon that once swam in the Baltic Sea disappeared some 100 years ago. These days the only sturgeons out there are the Russian species which are from time to time farmed and let out into the waterways – and I have not heard of anyone catching one in a net, ever.

Curiously, these scary-looking fish lack teeth (except for the beluga sturgeon and another near-related species), and they do not use their eyes when they look for food or eat. Instead they have a good sense of smell, extended to a lot of chemical cues, and they sense weak electric signals from other living things nearby.

The Maretarium in Kotka specializes in fish found in Finnish waters – thus a lot of trout, perch, a few funny-looking pikes, and a bunch of funky eels. Even in cold Finland, where waters freeze over in the winter, there is so much going on underneath the bellies of bathing-suited summer lovers just skimming the surface of the water.

(Maretarium, Kotka, Finland; July 2020)


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Please walk on the grass

In Finland, park visitors are always welcome to walk on the grass, unless specifically told not to. Of course: the grass is there to feel nice and cool against one’s feet, soft to sit down on, and a cloud of green summer to lie in.

How different it was, then, to move to Cambridge ten years ago and to learn all the rules about walking on the grass. Generally, only fellows, professors, and higher were allowed to walk on the grass in Cambridge colleges. And gardeners, of course. Except for in Newnham, a college built as a beautiful but carefully guarded enclosed space for the girls coming to Cambridge to study. Because they were not allowed out without chaperoning, the college gardens were built for enjoyment – and grass was welcomed to be walked on.

At the Anjala manor in southeastern Finland, they must have seen many timid tourists who needed encouragement: Please, do walk on the grass!

(Anjala, Finland; July 2020)


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At the older border to Russia

Pyhtää used to be at the border between Sweden and Russia in the 18th century. It is odd to think how far into modern Finland the border stretched: by car the journey to the current border crossing is 80 kilometers.

The church of Saint Henry was built around 1460, when Finland was part of Sweden. Elsewhere, this was the time of the War of the Roses, Aztecs, Renaissance, the “discovery” of America, and the Spanish inquisition. I doubt many here in Finland cared, though – the life here has always been relatively down-to-earth and simple. But this one masterpiece got built and it still stands today – very beautifully so.

(Pyhtää, Finland; July 2020)


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So many rapids

Kotka-siikakoski-2

Siikakoski

Kymi river is one of the big ones in Finland – although naturally for one used to the Danube or the Amazon it is a tiny stream. But the beauty of Kymi lies in its many rapids and whitewaters, perfect for fly fishing salmon and trout. And simply purifying one’s mind in the white noise of the water.

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Ahvionkoski

This coronavirus summer, my father lead a family expedition to discover the various rapids of Kymi river. Every now and then we would get in the car and spend half a day driving around. How he knew how to find the various gravely forest roads leading down to obscure fishing spots along the many arms of Kymi river, I do not not know. Either he has photographic memory after studying Google Maps, or a very good memory from his youth adventures.

Kymi-1

I forget which one this was… we stopped on a small bridge.

I tried to recall all the names of the rapids, but I realized we had been to many of which I have no photos, and others of which I have too many photos. But they all have one thing in common: the fishing rules are signposted in Finnish and Russian (and, surprisingly, not in Swedish, the other national language) – signaling that the border is nearby.

Kymi-5

Hirvikoski

Many of the rapids are harnessed for hydropower use, and most do as far as I know not have fish ladders for salmon and trout to migrate upstream. On the one hand it makes me sad that the beauty is lost, but on the other hand I am grateful they are not dammed, and that fossil fuel is reduced at least a little bit thanks to the hydropower plants.

Kymi-3

This one is lost on me, too

(Kymi river, Finland; July 2020)


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The missing point of the largest Baltic Sea naval battle

Kotka-1Right out there, outside of Kotka, a huge sea battle raged in 1790. Swedish forces sank 80 Russian ships, even if Sweden was severely outnumbered. It was the largest naval battle in the history of the Baltic Sea. It was also caused by a king who wanted to prove himself to be as great as the past kings he admired so much – and to shift the attention away from the problems he had in his own country.

In order to reclaim Finnish territories now in the hands of Russia, king Gustav III decided to go to war against his own cousin, Catherine the Great of Russia. Why not? Surely kings of the past used to do that all the time. Well, Catherine beat the poop out of Gustav’s army outside of Kotka the first time around, in 1789. Kotka-3In 1790, Catherine was probably furious, preparing to put down her cousin for good. But the wind blew up from the wrong direction, the waters were shallow and underwater rocks were strewn everywhere. Over 7,000 men died for her, compared to the much smaller loss of around 600 Swedish men. 

As I am not a historian, I cannot quite understand what was gained by any party in this battle. The borders were returned as they were, and even after this great victory, Gustav III’s grand plans never advanced far enough to recapture the lost Finnish territories. His few small attempts were beat down by his cousin. Perhaps both parties were reeling from shock so much that they gave up?Kotka-2The tip of Kotka is now a beautiful maritime park, with gardens, sheep, picnic grounds, and an ice cream stand which always has a long line during sunny days. And it is difficult to imagine the countless ships, cannons, and human bones lying on the bottom of the sea, where it not for the soldier-like ship timber erected by the waterfront as a memorial for the (arguably quite meaningless) great battle.Kotka-4(Kotka, Finland; July 2020)


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Midsummer in the country

midsummer-1No shoes were not quite appropriate for the summer photo above. But you see, the grass was still a little cool and dewy from the nightless night.

The sun did not set until nearly 11 pm here in the South of Finland. We ate at a long table out under the apple trees. There were macarons and calvados for dessert. And it never quite got dark. midsummer-2(Loviisa, Finland; June 2020)


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Shinrin-yoku, every day

shinrin-yoku-3Shinrin-yoku, or forest-bathing, every day. The Japanese prefer slow mindful sauntering instead of aerobic hiking. As a form of nature therapy, shinrin-yoku means not only crossing through a wood, but bathing in it: letting it fill one’s lungs, ears, nose, and eyes. It means not talking or listening to music, but listening to the birds, the grasshoppers, and the wind in the trees. And it means wandering off the path to caress the warm, dry bark of a tree, just because it feels like the best thing to do at the moment.shinrin-yoku-1That is why forest-bathing is best done alone. And while I like to alternate between running and walking through the forests in Loviisa, I still do it every day. And I come out from the forest feeling very centered and alive.
shinrin-yoku-2(Loviisa and Kotka, Finland; June 2020)


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WFH, the rural alternative

june-1My home office for the rest of June. Hot, humid, and a bit overgrown. Emails and surfing are to be managed on a cellphone hotspot, and video conferences to be taken from the porch of my parents’ house, in self-isolation from them for the first 2 weeks.

My father had ordered wifi in late May, and they dug the cable up to the house within a week. Connecting it had a two-month backlog, as every house and summer house now suddenly requires wifi, thanks to the Working From Home -culture of 2020. (Now the wifi is finally being connected as I am writing this, in early August…)june-2(Loviisa, Finland; June 2020)


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COVID-free and flying home

cphI have not been grounded for as long as 3 months in over 10 years. And because in Copenhagen I was unable to fly to see my colleagues AND to spend time with my family, in mid-June I challenged the lockdown and flew home to Finland for the summer.

In Denmark, anyone could sign up to be tested (or just walk/drive in these days) at any time, so I went for a test which delivered the results just in time for my flight. Over the summer, Denmark further implemented a COVID-19 negative -pass, downloadable and valid for 7 days after a PCR test.

Then I gathered the paperwork needed to back up my re-entry to Denmark: employment contract, rental agreement, and the yellow health insurance card. I packed for a month’s worth of varying Finnish summer weather (I ended up staying longer) and exchanged my previous Finnair cancellation voucher for a one-way ticket to Helsinki.

The airport was nearly shut down, including the lounges. We early morning birds had to choose from 7-Eleven or Joe & the Juice – you guessed it: the latter was where the crowd stood, trying to socially distance while waiting for breakfast. As there was no cabin service on the flight (face masks on during the entire flight), breakfast seemed like a good idea.flightBoarding with a Finnish passport was no trouble, although several other passengers were taken aside to get their paperwork in order. Crossing the border in Finland with a passport issued by the Copenhagen embassy was no issue, either, although on my both sides, foreign passport holders were digging up marriage certificates and work permits and quarantine addresses from their bags. I did not even need to give an address for quarantine nor sign a document where I vouched I would stay there for the first 14 days – such was still required some weeks previously.

Right now, in early August, several European borders are shutting up again after allowing holiday travelers in and out for roughly a month. This is the new normal – at least for another 1-2 years to come, depending on the efficiency and speed of the vaccine efforts. With some planning and luck, travel is still possible in 2020. covid(Copenhagen, Denmark; June 2020)


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Goodbye dear ones

When I crossed the border to Sweden during coronavirus lockdown I did it to say goodbye to Cassandra, my Russian blue. Well, she had really not been mine anymore for one and a half years. I had to give up her and her friend Ramses, because Ramses was reacting very negatively to new life in Brande in 2018.

So when I got the call in May that Cassandra’s kidney disease had raised its head, after three years of slumber and medicine diet, I took my chances and went over for a day. Little did I know then that I was saying goodbye to Ramses, too.

I picked him up and made an off-hand comment that he felt very light. It was not unusual: he’s had IBD for the past several years and appetite and weight had constantly fluctuated – although he had immediately calmed down and put on one and a half kilos more after my friend took him in. That is a lot for a cat that weighed only three kilos and a bit when he arrived, stressed to the max.

My friend weighed him later, and got worried. A month later I got another phone call: Ramses had diabetes, and it was advancing fast. The only option was insulin shots for the rest of his short life (he was nearly fifteen), plus losing Cassandra anyway, which would be so sad for his highly cuddly character. The decision was not mine to make but I think my friend and her children, all heartbroken, made the right one: one day in July both cats fell asleep together, side by side in the same travel box.

I was twenty-four when I got Cassandra. Twenty-five when Ramses joined us. They have been with me for nearly my entire adult life: all the ups and downs. And there have been many. It was so difficult to give them up – it felt like giving up an arm or a leg. I am surprised by how difficult it was to hear that they were gone. Writing this now, nearly a month later, still brings tears into my eyes.

But above it all, I am filled to the brim with gratitude towards my friend and her children, who gave both kitties a loving, peaceful, nearly travel-free retirement home. Cassandra slept with my friend, and Ramses with her daughter – who used to say that he was the best thing that had ever happened to her. I just wish they had more time together. Don’t we all, always wish for more time?saturdaymorning-11am(Copenhagen, Denmark; July 2020)