Vihrea. I learned the Finnish words for colors first and green (vihrea) sparked my pilot blog. It was posted in November, Louisiana’s greenest, most beautiful month, and I connected some anxieties I was experiencing about my upcoming time in Finland to Louisiana’s incomparable lushness. I knew I would miss the exotic beauty of my state in this cold, dark place. Seven months later, I see that projection was another colossal miss. Finland in spring is luxuriant. I wander for hours every day, engulfed in vibrant explosions of color.
My long rambles inspire wonder and gratitude. With age I find comfort and even companionship in Mother Nature. But my relationship with the her is a long way from the deep-seated, respectful one that seems innate to a Finn. For those who have not been lucky enough to live among them for several months, a quick look at a few stats and customs confirms this nature-loving national characteristic.
Statistics Finland reports that there are at least a million summer cottages and larger leisure homes in this country of 5.5 million. Finland is a walker’s paradise. The trails are wonderful and invite long hikes. Tired travelers can rest in laavut (shelters) along the way- many equipped with a ready supply of firewood.It is reported that Finns take the most holiday trips per year, the majority of these are domestic (Statistics Finland). A favorite vacation is retreating into the country. They enjoy walking in the woods, swimming, fishing, boating, sauna, absorbing the silence- and living close to nature. This closeness lasts year round. Cold Finnish winters are welcomed by many Finns. It is the time for cross county skiing, skating and snowmobiling, ice fishing and yes- sauna. The whitened landscape brings welcomed light to the short, dark days.
“Everyone has the right to roam Finland’s forests and countryside freely, no matter who owns the land, thanks to a legal concept, unique to the Nordic countries, known as Everyman’s Right. Everyman’s Right enables Finns and foreigners alike to explore Finland’s famous forests, fells and lakes – and also freely collect natural products like tasty wild berries and mushrooms, even where they grow in privately owned forests.” Foraging is a favorite autumn pastime. A young friend tells me that her mother looks forward to fall Saturdays when she can pack sandwiches and a thermos of coffee and retreat to the forest for the entire day to pick mushrooms and berries. Nordic Zen.
The special relationship is evident even in the city center. One example is Turku’s urban gardening program. In late spring, urban container gardens appeared- scattered at random locations throughout the city. I live near the city center, between two university campuses. Strolling past the containers every day, and enjoying the progress of the flowers, herbs, and vegetables growing has become an enjoyable part of my daily routine.
Turku also hosts three community gardens. These are gardening subdivisions composed of urban spaces about the size of a small house lot. One of the community gardens is quite central; the other two are in Turku’s outskirts. All gardens are easily accessible by bus. One of my favorite places to visit is gardens in Kupittaa, an easy fifteen minute walk from my apartment. These are havens where green-thumbed hobbyists can enjoy working outside, watching things grow, or spend quiet time. While a few gardens have vegetable patches, most lots are miniature parks and have a small garden house surrounded by flowers, bushes and grass.
Also available in Turku are over a dozen areas with 100m2 allotments. Two of these are areas for university students, a quick bike ride from my studio. I tramp by these regularly, watching young farmers/gardeners tend mostly vegetable crops. Other lots are scattered throughout the city and can be leased for one year for 15 to 20 euros.
A hundred other tributes to Mother Nature decorate the city. A pot of daisies beside a door. The single flower offered as a gift. The rarity of paper cups and disposables. The undisturbed city flower gardens. The abundance of resale shops. Little pots of flowers or grasses on café tables. Florist shops on every block. Park benches all over the city inviting enjoyment of the view. Concrete containers of flowers that appear throughout town in June. “Turku-Åbo” in yellow pansies. Sitting on the grass – any grass anywhere. Making room for green spaces- even though these spend more time as white or frozen spaces.
In these last weeks I’m saying farewell this beautiful country and these Almost Nearly Perfect People. I’ll look at Finland as the place that showed me how to nature can be a comfort and a companion. What a gift- to leave with some of that Nordic Zen.
Anna Marquardt is a born again nature-loving teacher living in Finland for a few weeks more. The views represented in this blog are hers alone and not those of the Fulbright Commission.