This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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The Spice Isles were not always so

spices-1Zanzibar and its surrounding islands are also known as the Spice Isles. Curiously, this is a wholly imported conception, as there was no real concentration of spices growing here until the Portuguese came and planted spice and fruit varieties they had encountered on their travels around the world. Everything seems to grow on Zanzibar, and so now the farmers grow peppercorn from India, lemongrass from Southeast Asia, avocado from Peru, cloves from Indonesia, and vanilla from South America. In essence, the ecosystem of Zanzibar changed completely with the settlement of the Portuguese. spices-4.jpgAnd yes, cloves come from red flowers on a tree and peppercorn grow on a vine. Cardamom comes from overground root-like pods produced after flowering, and pineapple takes 6 months to mature (and one can only harvest one fruit per plant per year). All of these, as well as cinnamon, turmeric, and other spices are now an integral part of the Swahili diet and kitchen. I would love to know what food tasted like before the Portuguese came.
spices-2.jpg(Zanzibar, Tanzania; August 2017)

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A modern monkey

canopy-2After browsing the free-time activities during a work retreat, I signed up for a canopy tour. I thought it would be like the canopy tours I did in the past: walking on planks and suspension bridges in trees. How wrong I was. Read the small print they say – but who ever does?

Instead we were whisked up on top of a mountain in a ski lift, trussed and clamped into a harness, and sent down the mountain on ziplines, toes skimming the treetops. Hanging from a wire, wind in my eyes, speeding towards a huge tree, I had to learn to brake with my glove on the wire before hitting it full speed. That’s what the helmets were for – or against.

canopy-1 As I stood under the apex of a lark tree, enjoying the sunlight and hum of the wind in the branches, squirrels scattered in all directions with angry complaints: humans don’t belong in the trees anymore. “Have not done so for quite a while so Go Away!”

Yet I could not help but think of John Muir’s tale about when he rode out a storm in the top of a douglas fir in Yosemite. And I thought of redwood arborists who spend days harnessed and hanging from trees, studying the animals and trees that grow from compost deposited on a redwood branch – and even sleeping suspended in the trees.

And I realized I just may have missed a second calling as an arborist, spending my days up in the trees, researching the microecosystem of a single tree branch. I may have missed a chance for happiness by reverting into a modern monkey.

canopy-3(Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, USA; October 2015)


More water and rice fields – and ducks

riceterraces-2  Just like to every other culture on this planet, to the Balinese water is holy. To them rice is holy, too, and a gift of God. Thus perhaps life is best managed by managing rice growth and water supply? This seems to be the worldview of the Balinese, who have cultured rice in terraces for thousands of years. The subak system intertwines collective ownership, agriculture, water systems, and religious worship in water temples.

waterfallAs I looked out at the rice terraces I was reminded of an elementary school lesson where we were taught that circulation of crops keeps the soil fertile: grains, potatoes with stalks, and most importantly, nitrogen-binding peas in a continuous rotation. The Balinese have grown rice – and more rice – year after year, for thousands of years. No potatoes or peas. How could that be?

The answer is ducks. Yes, ducks. Dozens of ducks. Sometimes hundreds of ducks, invading the rice fields, eating insects and weeds, and pooping out the best organic fertilizer.

Organic agriculture rocks. Who needs chemicals when ones has fluffy quacky ducks at one’s disposal?

riceterraces-1(Jatiluwih, Bali, Indonesia; August 2015)


On Bali every flower has a purpose

Baliflowers-2One lonely frangipani flower lies at the toes of a griffin carved in stone. A monkey statue has two red hibiscus flowers sticking out behind its ears. A buddha blesses a fresh, sun-orange marigold in his hand. On Bali, no flower lies anywhere by chance.

Baliflowers-3Every flower has a purpose. Godly forces and beings are everywhere, and everything man-made has a religious purpose or has been blessed for its proper use. And the lotus flower is the most sacred of all. It grows in every little pond and pot by the door, with its feet in the mud and its flower held high.

There is much muddy water in this world. Most of us wade or swim through it without ever knowing better. We forget what it was like to be a child and to skip on the surface, feet barely touching the dirt below. The lotus has realized that barely floating is not the best salvation: only by rooting into the mud it is possible to stretch and reach above it, and to enjoy the pure air and sunlight.

Standing by a lotus pond in Ubud I was wishing that I could grow lotuses home in Helsinki, too, as a reminder of what is within my reach, if I only remember how to reach for it.

Baliflowers-1(Ubud, Bali, Indonesia; August 2015)

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When the cat is gone the mouse….grows leaves??

cycad-1It was a cold morning in late June, and she was packing her bags, fretting about sunhats and hiking boots and cocktail dresses. By the size of the bags she would be away for a while. “Finally some peace of mind – and space all to myself”, the cycad on the kitchen windowsill sighed, relieved. She did not even say goodbye to her cycad friend. She rarely spoke to it. She thought that since its relatives had been around since the dinosaurs and they are known to push out one leaf per year when they choose to show signs of life, perhaps a word or two every five years would suffice.

The front door banged close and everything grew silent. For days. Until the sun broke out and the room filled up with song. Did you not know? If you listen carefully to the sunlight you will hear a faint tune, like a sun-fairy happily humming into your ear.

“Today is a good day to stretch my leaves” the cycad thought, with the sun-song whirling around the room. And it stretched, and stretched, reaching into all directions, until suddenly, two new fronds popped out. And a third one, still with its curlers on.

cycad-3“Whoops”, said the cycad. “Oops. I was going to save those for the moment when she chose to speak to me again.” In vain it tried to curl and roll and stuff them back into the cone. Oh well, maybe I can make a point of protest with them instead.” And it continued stretching and reaching and pushing in the sound of sunlight, until its new fronds were twice the length of the old ones, standing out like giant whiskers. “Now let’s see if she notices me at all” it said to itself, grooming the fresh, still curly leaves until they were sure to stand out.

Finally she came home. Unloaded her bag and busied herself with laundry, work, and cats for three days. On the fourth day she, an unlawfully bad plant owner indeed, remembered her green friends that might need water. And stared at the cycad, which stubbornly, insultedly showed her it had outgrown both its pot and its windowsill.

“You crazy dinosaur, you have gone cuckoo, you!” she exclaimed. And watered the cycad. And made a note of finding a bigger pot. And made a promise to speak to the cycad at least twice a week, if it promised her to make at least two fronds per year, and try to still fit that windowsill so the cats would leave it alone. Because in this household there is heart-space for both cats and a dinosaur mouse with giant whiskers.


(Helsinki, Finland; July 2015)

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About celandines and the fleeting nature of it all

yellowanemonesI saw them in the park, the little celandine suns. While kneeling to snap a photo I was joined by another photographer, with more serious equipment and the same intent: to snap a memory and impression of the golden and green and this particular spring day.

This is the essence of photography: it is not about taking beautiful pictures, but about recording reality. Most often it is about our human weakness of not accepting the elusive nature of time and precious moments. Photography is an incredibly technologically advanced method of attempting to store deep emotions, feelings of belonging, and moments that once were and will never return again.

As I carefully tread through the grass without trampling on the celandines, I reflected on the incredible size of market and business around clinging to past moments. I thought of how important it is to so many that share what we once saw and felt – the basis of social media. And I could not help but wonder, what would happen if we accepted that nothing is permanent? That after enjoying a moment it is time to let it go? That life is stock-full of moments and we might enjoy them more if we breathed through those moments with eyes open instead of fiddling with our smartphones?

(Helsinki, Finland; May 2015)

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About cherry blossoms and the brevity of it all


If there were no cherry blossoms in the world
My mind would be peaceful

(Fujiwara Norihira)

When cherries bloom, the Japanese celebrate the beauty and fleeting nature of life. Not life as a continued existence, or life as an eternal soul. But life as that short moment of seven days where a cherry blossom opens, blooms, and drops its petals to the ground like snowfall. Life that, after blooming, has yielded a fruit and another life.

We Westerners mostly celebrate life without including its end, whatever it may be. Death, or transit to rebirth, is always a separate subject for attention. Standing under the pink cherry blossom boughs I wondered how it would feel to celebrate life, including the brevity of life as we know it. And yet, most of the sakura poetry I have stumbled upon is concerned with that brief moment when a cherry blossom petal falls to the ground. Life is uncertain, and the petal knows no more of its destiny than do we humans of our own fates.

A fallen blossom
Returning to the bough, I thought –
But no, a butterfly

(Arakida Moritake)

(Hanami festival, Helsinki, Finland; May 2015)