I am not sure how many years ago exactly, but around years ago, someone decided that it was time for the old ferry to retire and to build this bridge instead. They brought and and gravel to the extend the road onto the lake and then started to build this bridge. When you walk across it you can still see the docking points of the small ferry. On the Eastern shore you can still see the old wooden house of the ferry pilot. A family had bought it and renovated and I saw the father and his three children jumping from the pier one late night last summer.
Now in winter the bridge stands upon the frozen water. The metal makes a sound now and then when the temperature lowers even further than today. It is -10C.
Yesterday. It was just four thirty in the aftwrnoon buy it was already dark. The sign on the road told us to turn left. We followed a forest road for about three kilometres. The snow on top of it was pressed by some cars that had passed by during the day. It made the surface smooth and not slippery. We passed few cottages with decorative LED light on but nobody inside. We reached the fireplace. It was cold. Maybe minus five or minus six. I put on the small pieces of wood I had cut at the cottage. Put under them some birch tree bark and lit the fire. In fifteen minutes we would have a late lunch or early dinner.
For many year I have been living in Southeast Asia. There were only two seasons then: wet season and dry season. Temperatures staying more or less the same.
I have been back with my family in Finland for more than three years now and I re-discovered the beauty if four seasons. My uncle used to ask me when I was living in Asia: don’t you miss the seasons? My answer was no, I did not. While living there I honestly did not miss them. I was living in Asia that meant usually two seasons, warm weather, the humidity of the tropics.
Now I am in Europe, in Finland. The summer is a bit short but I am back to the four seasons and how landscapes change four times a year.
This is what I was thinking, while walking in the footsteps of Katja on the frozen lake at out cottage.
I travelled to Eastern Finland for the beginning of the year. The forest is quite, silent. There is no wind. The snow stays on the branches of the trees. I can hear a woodpecker hitting the bark up on a tree nearby. The lake is frozen and the ice is covered by a layer of soft snow. Everything is still.
Today in Kitee: sunrise at 8:27am – sunset at 16:15. Cloudy. -6C.
Less than 8 hours of day light. Better to put some warm clothes on go for the 7km walk around the village and hamlets of Niinikumppu, in the countryside not far from Kitee.
The temperature has lowered since yesterday and you can hear the sound of the dry snow crunching under the sole of the boots. The countryside road is fully covered by snow with signs of the tiers of the cars that passed during the day. On the side of the road, where the snow is more soft, there are footprints of a couple walking their dog. We pass few empty homes. No lights inside. Cars or vans parked in the yard covered by snow. One house has a flag pole with the thin and long flag of this region, Karelia, hanging on the top and moving in slow waves. These are countryside house. All in wood. Mostly painted in dark red. The frames of the doors and windows in painted in white.
These houses seem hibernating and I ask myself where the owners are. Have they left just for the holidays? Have they moved elsewhere duchin the winter? Have they moved for good?
This is not my first walk around here. I have passed by these houses during the spring, the summer, the winter. These houses are well kept but they seem often empty. I try to imagine how it is to live here, in the countryside of Eastern Finland. 8 km form the main road. 15 km from Kitee, which is a small town. What do people do? How do they earn their living? Some may own fields and plant barley and other crops in the spring and summer. But the winter is quite long and farms tend to be pretty small. Some may own forest and would sell timber. But it takes years for seeding to become trees that are worth selling. What do they do in the meantime.
As I am writing this, I opened the AdminStat site and looked at the demographic data of the Municipality of Kitee. On 1. January 2017, the population was 10.719. The net birthrate for that year was -95. The net migration rate was -138. The population on 31. December of 2017 has decreased by 233 down to 10.486. That was in line with previous years when the population of Kitee on average decreased by 1,4%.
The largest age group in the municipality is the 55-64 which accounted in 2017 for 19,865 of the population. The people in the age groups from 55 and above account for 52,46% of the population. This means that the young people leave the municipality and the population here is getting older.
What will be the future of municipalities like Kitee in the 21st century, I wondered during my walk today. i have been coming here regularly for the past 20 years. How will the houses I saw today look like 20 -40 years from now. Will they still be inhabited? Will they still be there? Will they be look run down and abandoned? Will there be young families living here?
It is six months that I have not posted new photos or written a blog post. Maybe it because of the pandemic and the fact that the days seem all the same through Zoom calls, Google meets, Mural whiteboards. I am thankful I have a job and can work from home, but the lack of face-to-face contacts blurs the difference between days, weeks, and months.
One of the effect this pandemic has on me is that it made me forget my camera. It is as if by remaining in one place for such a long period had made me loose touch with my photography.
It is good we came for the Christmas break to Eastern Finland. It has been nice having the camera with me again and taking photos during the walks we did the last few days.
We have taken advantage of the few hours of daylight and have been going for walks around the countryside in Niinikumpu, near Kitee. I enjoy walking along the country side roads and look for black and white patterns: a snow coverer pine tree, the poles of the electricity line, the profile of a hill and a farmhouse on top of it.
Here some of the photos I took yesterday and today.
Vappu, or Walpurgis night, in Finland is one of the four biggest holidays along with Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and Midsummer. The celebration, which begins on the evening of 30 April and continue on 1 May. Many high school alumni wear the black and white student cap and many higher education students wear student coveralls. Traditionally, 1 May is celebrated by the way of a picnic in a park. For most, the picnic is enjoyed with friends on a blanket with food and drinks.
I went out to the center of Tampere on Vappu. I brought my camera because I thought that this year’s Vappu would be different.The center was deserted. Cafes has doors were open with signs inviting clients to buy Takeaway coffee. But nobody was around to buy. The Cafes were empty. I walked to Tammelantori and saw a couple of Asian food stalls selling the traditional munkki and siima.
On a normal Vappu there would be thousands of students in their white student caps walking in the streets or sitting in large groups and having a picnic at the central park at Koskipuisto. They would be joined by adults and elderly people many of whom would also wear their old students caps. Everybody would celebrate the end of the winter and beginning of the summer no matter what the weather is on the day.
I walked for about two hours. The streets were empty. People follow the government guidelines and they are doing the right things. The real Vappu was missing in these extraordinary times.
Sunday. Max Richter playing a modern version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I have added 120g of strong white flour to a mix yogurt and milk. Hopefully in two days there will be some bubbles. The beginning of a home made yeast.
On our way back from Lapland we had a stopover in Rovaniemi. We had enough time to visit the Arktikum, the science centre and museum about northern nature and culture. In one of the side rooms the museum has a photo exhibition about the 60 years of the city of Rovaniemi. It is a very simple display. One TV screen shows a slideshow of black and white photos about the 60 years of the city. I sat and started to watch it. I took my camera and started to take photos of the photos I was seeing. They are very nice images of everyday life, people and their jobs, sport, music, concerts. A great set of images about the city and its citizens.
You can see the images below. The images are straight out of the camera. The only edit has been the change of format from RAW into JPG. I have not cropped any image nor changed resolution or contrast.
We had about 15 km behind us. We followed the cross-country ski track through forest and miers covered under a deep layer of snow. At one point the track made a long gentle turn to the right. It was the Northern tip of the Pyhäjärvi (Pyhä Lake) and of the ski track we were following around it. At the end of the turn the track started to follow a long series wooden electricity poles in a straight line. The track run between the village of Pyhäjärvi on our left and vast snow-covered frozen lake on our right. We stopped when we saw a young boy selling warm coffee and juice to skiers. While I was sipping from my paper cup I looked around. Up on a gentle slope the wooden houses where deep in the snow. I imagined the dark months of December and January. How many hours of light do they have up here? and when the summer arrives, does the sun set belows the horizon or not? what jobs people have? are they all working in the tourism sectors? what other work exists so up north? do young people stay here or do they move when they finish their studies? how is it to live so up north?
We finished our drinks and skied for about 1 km to the cafe Mummola to have something to eat before the last stretch of 8 km to get back to our cottage. Temperature -14C. Blue sky. Not a cloud.
One thing you do when in Lapland during the winter is to go out in the night and look up to the sky. And so I did. I also found an app (there are many) that given 30 min forecast of the northern lights: how weak or strong they are. It give time to get ready. Put the winter clothes on. Read a some blogs about the camera set up for taking photos of the Northern lights. Switch on the head torch and get out. There are northern lights every night, but they are never the same. I learned that they come in a scale from 0 to 9 (9 being very rare and being visible also in central Europe). So, I got out at nights during our trip to Pyhätunturi and look up at the sky. The first night they were barely visible. The second night they were a faint greenish cloud at the horizon. The third night they were a bit more visible, between 2.5 at the horizon. The last night they were up above our cottage. Like a cloud of fine dust, very high up in the sky, that moves along a wind stream and slowly changes shape as it moves.
At the start I follow the track with my eyes. Two parallel lines in which the cross-country skis find their way forward. It takes me few kilometres to get into a rhythm and be able to see the landscape around me. When I do, I can fully realise where I am. When I stop to catch my breath I see sky which is totally blue. Not a single cloud. No wind. The temperature is -15C, but I do not feel it. I feel warm from the sun and the exercise. I listen to my breath slowing down and realise that around me nature is totally silent as if I were in a landscape painting. I start again moving. First the right ski, then the left one, then again the right one. And so on and on. I try not to push too much with the sticks and let the legs to the work. In half an hour I will be up at the cabin and look forward to the coffee and the wood-fire stove warming up the room.
The classic cross-country skiing style is often used on prepared trails (pistes) that have pairs of parallel grooves (tracks) cut into the snow. It is also the most usual technique where no tracks have been prepared. With this technique, each ski is pushed forward from the other stationary ski in a striding and gliding motion, alternating foot to foot. With the “diagonal stride” variant the poles are planted alternately on the opposite side of the forward-striding foot; with the “kick-double-pole” variant the poles are planted simultaneously with every other stride. At times, especially with gentle descents, double poling is the sole means of propulsion. On uphill terrain, techniques include the “side step” for steep slopes, moving the skis perpendicular to the fall line, the “herringbone” for moderate slopes, where the skier takes alternating steps with the skis splayed outwards, and, for gentle slopes, the skier uses the diagonal technique with shorter strides and greater arm force on the poles (Wikipedia).