Friday, 23 August 2013

My chair without me.

A pause and some tea.

At the window, a darkening and restless fog hovers and I measure it by the number of church steeples visible moment to moment. A little breeze trips inside carrying crow songs and the swishing sounds of traffic passing. This side of the window, a scent of dammar varnish hangs on the air and wisps of steam flick out of my teacup like a tongue. On the easel I have a sense of the satisfaction of carpentry. I am building part of a city, beam by beam.

Friday, 16 August 2013

The Rose-Coloured Hours

Up, north of the Arctic Circle where the land is a carpet of blueberry and rock, where old forests grow tall and spindly, and where summer is one long day, we hiked through valleys and forests, over fells and past lakes.

Other than the whining of mosquitoes, it is an eerily silent place, and the sky feels somehow larger sitting atop the ancient, worn down mountains or hovering over the bog lands and watery valleys.  Only on our second day's walk was the silence broken by curlews singing in the high branches of some mountain-top trees.

Our little folding map showed places with names given to them by Sami people with meanings such as 'witch fell', 'sacrifice ridge', and 'holy baptism lake', a sort of shorthand that helped the stories of the land overlap our experience of it.

The forests had two sorts of paths: the paths made and used by people and reindeer, and the far more numerous paths created by millions and millions of ants. Ant hills taller than a person were everywhere. They were usually old enough to be partially covered in well-established low-growing plants, and had paths leading to and from in all directions, as wide as a single-person footpath, and running dark with the bodies of rushing ants.

So we scrabbled up rocky fells where sometimes the rocks carried wavy imprints of the bottom of the sea, and we said our 'hei's and 'terve's ('hi's and 'hello's) to the few and far-flung hikers we passed. And we felt a little sheepish in our regular clothes and shoes, which suddenly seemed inappropriate when met with hiking gear.

But mostly we were alone in these delicate forests. And sometimes, dreaming and walking, it was as though we had wandered into the folklore illustrations of Ivan Bilibin.

As we walked, we gathered the wild blueberries which were starting to ripen. Everywhere not covered by stone, there were blueberry bushes huddled next to the earth.

After a few hours of walking we came to the wooden cabin where we would spend the night. There was also a sauna, a sheltered place to have a cooking fire, and a well, and...

... mushrooms growing, and violets, and cloudberries, and more blueberries....

... but best of all, there was a whole lake and a little dock with steps leading down into the water!

It was one-thirty in the morning before we looked at our watches and realized that the reason we were feeling so hungry was because we had forgotten to eat dinner, since it was still light out. A little later, the sky started to change colour.

Running from the sauna to the lake, in a sort of over-hot daze, everything was tinted with the luminous pink of a sunset where the sun would not set.  Though I was too busy swimming then to take a photo, I remember the green of the plants glowing against rose and tangerine and cool blues, the way some paintings from around the end of the nineteenth century glowed.

From the water we were able to see mist crawling across the water at eye-level. We watched it form at the edges of the lake and creep out across the still waters.

Luckily, this strange, prolonged moment of sunset-sunrise lasted so long that we were able to swim, sauna, build up a fire and cook some food over it, and still get some photos. (Though, I fear we missed capturing the most beautiful moments of it.)

And then, finally, with a little fire dancing in the cabin stove and the nighttime cold and daytime sun, we drew the curtains against the light and went to sleep.

In the morning, combing my hair on the cabin's porch, I was passed by a tall reindeer ambling down to the lake. (Not the little one in the photo above. We met later in the woods.)

How lovely it would be to spend a whole year or more in this enchanted place!

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Late Summer

A place where it seems to make more sense to have a boat than a car. Maybe a boat and a bicycle. Even a short walk from the centre of Helsinki will bring you to forests and lakes that felt to me like summers in "the bush" in Canada. And after a bit of walking in another direction you find the ocean dotted with tiny islands with only one or two houses on them. Looking at all the photos we took while in Finland, a rather overwhelming amount of them feature islands, boats, lakes, rivers, the sea and harbours. These are just a few of them.

* * *

And back here the days have been mild and sun-filled. Strolling in the evening, we discovered a place like Big Rock Candy Mountain, with forests of wayside raspberries (red and white!) and maybe even a cigarette tree. And so the house is full of the scent of baking pies and roiling jams. And sometimes some linseed oil too.

Monday, 5 August 2013

The city was our umbrella

Our first day in Helsinki was a clattering of thunderstorms on blue skies. Storms that I have missed since moving to Scotland and storms that left us stranded in the big art nouveau train station there, watching the city disappear underwater.

Sometimes as we wandered, we'd hear armies of rain marching towards us from down a side street, or a sudden feeling of doom would seize us, and with it the electric knowing that we only had seconds to scramble to the next cavernous old doorway to hide and to wait. And what began as a stroll in the sun turned frantic as we ran from entrance-way to entrance-way in the moments between cloud bursts. Sometimes we made it to the same doorway together, sometimes we could only peek out at each other from down the street.

A family passed us by. They had all taken off their shoes and were wandering the streets together soaked through and with the rain streaming down their bodies. Down by the harbour, a man and woman ran across the street to join us in a particularly nice doorway, but our lack of Finnish made for poor conversation, unfortunately.

Our small journey across the city could be measured in doorways and the density of the raindrop print of our clothes. Miraculously, we stayed mostly dry and by the time the evening began to wear on, the storms exhausted themselves and moved away, leaving us to trace the sea edge and then wind through streets where girls laughed and fell over.

And other than that first day, the sun smiled on us for the next few weeks. Sometimes all night long.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Great Ordinary

Hello! I have been hiding out, catching up, and easing slowly back into everyday life.  Just after my last post I caught the train to Edinburgh, and the next day I spent wandering the streets of Copenhagen alone, before falling asleep in Helsinki, reunited with my husband who'd been off for a week presenting a paper at a conference in Estonia. Together we adventured through Finland for a week, before heading off to a family reunion back in France. Still, crazy whirlwind weeks aside, I've been hiding out at home in Scotland for almost two weeks now, so it is definitely time to reconnect again!

It feels like a long time since I've had the experience of returning home after travels. All the old seems new again, and a sweet, quiet feeling of retreat seems to hover over everything. Looking at things from this particular perspective, other approaches to the ordinary seem to present themselves.

One thing I have been thinking about is how posts here sometimes take up a lot more energy than they ought to. So a new aim is to make shorter posts, which will hopefully turn into more posts... maybe even photos of works in progress if I can work up the nerve!

Anyway, I can hear the front door opening, so I'd better be going. A Russian circus is in town tonight!