This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Low season at the airport

Looks busy as usual, right? The truth is, when I flew back to Denmark in late August these two aircrafts were the only ones I could see across the entire terminal and runways. But the Finnair lounge was open, in contrast to my last visit in late July. Progress? Perhaps – or just a little bubble of normalcy before the next wave of coronavirus.

I was scheduled to be in Finland this weekend, mid-September. The incidence count in Denmark is three times higher than the limit for freely entering Finland. While I can always return home with a Finnish passport, I would need to self-quarantine, or take the chance that I bring illness to my parents’ small current home town, still nearly free of the virus. So I have postponed my flight until mid-December.

It is going to be a long fall and winter.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; September 2020)


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The end of a hundred-year-old shed

There once was a little shed in the back of the garden. Its back was bent from carrying two layers of roof, shingles and tiles, for a hundred years. Its pair of black-painted doors were hanging at the gable end like crooked teeth. The decorative trims were more bare wood than white. On the garden side, the flower wallpaper in the milk maid’s room was peeling. Through the years, the colors of the flowers had slipped away from the greenish white base.

The shed had housed hay carts, race carts, and, later a car. No maid had lived in the little room for sixty years. The only thing properly standing was the timber skeleton inside. It was time for the shed to go.

First went the roof. Tile by tile, revealing the shingle underneath.

“Will you bring a bulldozer and one of those iron swing balls you see in cartoons?” I asked my father.

He would not – instead he carefully removed each vertical siding plank and placed them in a pile. “Your cousin is going to use these to heat up his farm buildings,” he said.

Finally, when only the timber skeleton was left, the bulldozer arrived. And when it was done, the hundred-year-old shed was gone, and Nature was back.

(Loviisa, Finland; August 2020)


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Flying in COVID-times, part II

Still six months ago one could order Kyrö distillery’s world-famous gin-and-tonic cocktail in Finnair business class. Now, going home there was no business class and no alcoholic drink service, only sachets of Kyrö distillery’s hand disinfectant gel. Times change.

The disinfectant came with a surface wipe for devices, armrests, and tray table, as well as a little booklet reassuring the passenger about the safety of cabin air. Perhaps it was required, as the two-by-two -seated Embraer 190 was packed with passengers going to Copenhagen.

For a while now, taxis in Copenhagen have had a protective screen between driver and passenger. It does lack in style compared to old-fashion limousine screens with little shuttable windows. Guess there is no going back in time.

Also, the screen carries a big bottle of – you guessed it – hand sanitizer. And as of mid-August, wearing a mask in the cab became a requirement, both for drivers and passengers.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; July 2020)


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An asylum by the sea

If the inhabitants of Lapinlahti mental hospital would have been well, I had envied them for their backyard views. Sitting there by my own free will, sipping my café-bought kombucha, I hope it gave them at least a tiny millimeter of peace and hope every day.

The Emperor of Russia gave an order to build an asylum for those needing psychiatric care, and Lapinlahti opened its doors in 1841, among the first mental hospitals in Europe. Until 2008 it has housed patients, and so so many individual destinies, hopes, fears, illusions, and disillusions.

The house is nestled in the nook of a shallow bay, surrounded landside by lush green parkland. Such a lovely place to find oneself when one is lost. Unfortunately it is never quite that simple.

(Helsinki, Finland; July 2020)


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(Nearly) no coronavirus

Over here there really isn’t much coronavirus… the cases can still be counted on two hands. And yet we are only an hour’s drive away from Helsinki. Naturally, if I would bring coronavirus with me from Denmark the entire town would know about it within a week.

Five weeks in this beautiful green bubble have gone by fast. Wish I could stay longer. Waking up to cranes in the wheat fields and crows in the spruce trees corrects my priorities every morning.

(Loviisa, Finland; July 2020)


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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.

Kymi-2

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)