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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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.

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This one is lost on me, too

(Kymi river, Finland; July 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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Danes sure love deer

deerpark-2What’s the deal with deer parks in Denmark? Sofar I have run into deer parks in my both hometowns Brande and Vejle, as well as in Aarhus. And I know there are several around Copenhagen. The Danes sure seem to love deer.

Deer parks are parkland or wilderness, where you go for a leisurely walk and view deer. Interestingly, none of the species I’ve encountered (sika deer and fallow deer) are originally Danish, or even Nordic. The sika deer hails from East Asia (today mainly seen in Japan), while the beautifully horned and spotted fallow deer (below) was introduced to Europe, possibly by Phoenicians some 3,000 years ago, and adopted by many medieval aristocrats into their castle hunting grounds.

The native Danish roe deer are everywhere, even in our backyard forest in Vejle, but rarely in deer parks. I have also run into the other domestic species in the forest: the majestic, huge red deer. Think of Harry Potter’s patronus: an albino red deer stag. If you would like to see one for real, do head out into the rare natural forests of Jylland, not the deer parks.deerpark-1(Marselisborg Deer Park, Aarhus; October 2019)


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In the Sil river canyon

galicia-2Deep in Galicia, the river Sil squiggles through a canyon with walls up to 500 meters high. Somehow the Roman settlers discovered that the steep canyon walls produced excellent wine, as long as one had the energy and perseverance to maintain the vine plants required. galicia-6It seems that not only winemakers liked the Cañon del Sil, as there are a number of hermitage monasteries scattered along both riverbanks. galicia-7Oaks, chestnuts, ferns, and even Galician pine make the Sil river canyon lush surroundings for hiking – as long as one can keep up with the changes in altitude.galicia-8Along the cliff edge there is also a viewpoint curiously named Balcones de Madrid, even if one cannot see Madrid from it. With a little help from Google I pulled up stories about women choosing the viewpoint to see off their trader husbands traveling to Madrid: they had to climb down the canyon on one side, cross the river by boat, and climb up on the other side. Although whether it were the women or the men who built the laid rock walls still remains a mystery to me.galicia-9(Galicia, Spain; September 2019)


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In the enchanted forest

galicia-1Hiking in Galicia feels a little like what I presume hiking in Middle Earth (or of course New Zealand) would be. Lush, green forests, small streams, rounded boulders, and mountains everywhere.galicia-12It is as if one could expect the head of a little gnome peeking from behind the rocks lining the path. galicia-13Alas, the only unusual thing we saw today was a flower growing right out of the ground. Without stem or leaves. As if the ground itself were in bloom.
galicia-14(Galicia, Spain; September 2019)


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September is still summer in Spain

galicia-33September is still summer in Spain. Even in the fragas, the old-growth forests of the cool, rainy Northwest. Walking in a fraga is like walking in a fairytale forest overgrown with old oaks, chestnuts, and ferns; with mosses covering the trunks and and lichens dangling from the branches. galicia-29The water is pure and cool. I heard the Eume river is home to hordes of trout. This is probably what much of the Atlantic coastal forests looked like, before the industrial revolution. Fortunately bits and pieces are still conserved in Galicia.
galicia-28(Fragas do Eume; Spain; September 2019)


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Conferring fish and curious crayfish

SSaq-1I spent the afternoon studying conferring fish that look like plants growing from the sand, curious lobsters with bulging red eyes, and schools of tuna and sardines. The aquarium of San Sebastián is tucked away at the end of the old port. Half of the exhibition was about seafarers, types of trade and ships, corsairs, fishing, and whaling. I learned that Basques were famous for their shipmaking and seafaring skills, even if they rarely represented as captains on ships.

The aquarium was nicely built but enveloped in the noise of Spanish kids. It shames me to say I find Spanish children very rudioso (and sometimes their parents, too). Everybody could hear each other so much better if only they turned down the volume a notch or two. I hope the sea creatures have soundproof glass.SSaq-2My new housemate came home last night at 00.30 am, clomping over the floor in her shoes and having no discretion to us sleepers. This morning she got up in time but said she would catch up with us later. She did indeed, not by coming to class but by taking photographs of my homework when I got back. I guess it can sometimes be more efficient to only focus on getting homework right.SSaq-3(San Sebastián, Spain; August 2019)


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Earth’s history like pages in a book

Flysch-5One sunny afternoon after class I, my classmate, and two lovely Catalan ladies crammed ourselves into a car and headed out to the Flysch UNESCO geopark. Our guide gave us a walking stick each, brought us up a hill with a magnificent view over the coastline, showed us the hiking route across the rocks to a beach we could not quite see, and said “agur”, which is Basque for “adios”. “See you when you get there.” Then he turned on his heels and walked away, back to the car.

We ladies began our trek down the hill, along the beach, with some trepidation that we’d lose the way because there were so many trail options and markings. Finally we understood that “our” trail was the red-yellow-white detour trail of the Camino del Norte (the North pilgrimage route to Santiago) and we lifted our eyes to enjoy the landscape.Flysch-1And stunning it was: soft, undulating grassy hills that stopped short as if cut in half, with a rock face plunging straight down into the ocean. Horses with bells and lots of flies, green grass, blue skies, blue ocean water, and white froth. And several pairs of backpacked people walking the Camino, more or less worn out and sunburned.

The Flysch geopark is like an open book of the history of our Earth. Each vertical slab running from the hills into the ocean is like a page, a fossilized fold of the surface of the Earth. Once upon a time these pages were laid one on top of the other, but then the continental plates moved and forced the ocean floor to turn sideways, like a book standing on its spine. There are “pages” of yellow sand; others with ammonites trilobites, and other sea life; and surprisingly many black bands from volcanic eruptions. Together these layers form millions of millions of years of history. The reason for the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago can be confirmed here: the black band sitting in the right place “in the book” contains traces of extraterrestrial material, from the ash cloud that killed the sunlight and much life on Earth for years after the meteorite hit. Flysch-2Good shoes were needed, as well as a good head with two functioning ears. Our guide spoke with an Argentinian accent (which I find the most difficult Spanish accent). Somewhere along the tour he must have forgotten that I and my classmate were estudiantes de español, possibly because we nodded our heads too vigorously. And so the guidance of the second half of the tour was lost to us.

As I sat in the shade of the striped rocks I marveled at the age of our Earth: the time and effort needed to slowly create these deposits of animal fossils and dust and silt which then became band structures. The Iberian peninsula was once upon a time far adrift, and only when it floated back into contact with continental Europe the Flysch formation was squeezed and rotated into view. Could this stunning geometric structure have been a holy site for humans living here tens of thousands of years ago?
Flysch-3

(Flysch Geopark, Spain; August 2019)