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This is what I saw as I walked 500 meters into a dark, silent, frozen forest

I live in a small village in the middle of Lapland. In fact, most people who live in Lapland live in small villages. That’s because there are almost no proper cities here at all, above the arctic circle.

And because there are no cities, there is no articifial light, but lots and lots of darkness in winter. But during this darkness, the sky can sometimes set on green and purple fire.

Last night I left home around 7 p.m. and walked into the forest next to our house. I had no headlamp or flashlight with me, as I knew that after a few minutes my eyes would get used to the darkness. There is a bit of snow on the ground, which helps to see the path. Also, the Moon started rising.

After having walked only about a 100 meters, I saw the first flames in the sky.

I sat down and looked at the auroras dancing above me.

In the dark forest full of pure silence, I could hear some soft and distant rustling. At first I thought it was the aurora making that noise, as they are known to make some weird sounds sometimes. But then, as I sat there thinking about it, I realized that what I actually heard was the nearby lake freezing. The temperature was well below zero.

I stood up and headed forward. I wanted to see the nearest swamp. And boy, was it beautiful.

I sat down again, this time next to a small pine on the edge of the forest. I didn’t want to walk on the swamp, as it might not be fully frozen yet. It was safer to stay on dry ground. I was wearing enough clothes so I didn’t feel cold at all, even though I was sitting in snow.

I could still hear the sound of the freezing lake. Then I heard a little snap behind me. I still don’t know what it was, but probably it was just a freezing tree. Trees can make popping sounds when it gets really cold. It’s such an interesting experience to walk into a dark forest in winter: you can even hear the trees.

I texted my husband that everything was ok and that I was be heading home now.

In a Finnish forest there’s really not much to be afraid of. Reindeer and moose are not dangerous, and wolves, wolverines and bears do not come anywhere near you. Most finns know this and that is why we love to spend time in forests, enjoying silence, pure air and sometimes also auroras.

The healing power of forests

Those suffering from noise and stress can find an escape in forests. It is proven that sylvan nature reduces stress and blood pressure. Finland offers an excellent opportunity for a change in lifestyle, and its path leads to the forest.

Only five per cent of Finland’s surface area is built. More than 70% of the surface area is forest and 10% water systems. No wonder that enjoying nature is great on a global scale in Finland: more than half of Finns visit summer houses regularly.

As much as 70% of the inhabitants of northern Finland annually visit the nation’s forests to trek or pick berries or mushrooms.

In principle, every Finn has access to a silent forest and a strip of shore where one can be in peace. Foreigners too have noticed this. Tourists seek a counterbalance to their everyday life in Finnish nature destinations. They want peace, quiet and opportunities for nature and aesthetic experiences.

This is difficult in the built urban environment. For example, as much as 75% of Europeans live in an urban environment. Tourists value original nature, clean environment and local culture.

“Aesthetic experiences and the relaxing effect of a green environment lift your mood and help recover from stress,” claims Professor Liisa Tyrväinen of Natural Resources Institute Finland.

Dr. Liisa Tyrväinen has long studied the significance of forests as a producer of well-being. Forests have a great effect on people as a mental, cultural and experiential environment.

Air pollution and exposure to noise, in this order, are the biggest environmental problems for human health according to WHO, the World Health Organisation.

Insufficient recovery from stress raises the blood pressure and increases the risk of diabetes.

Ms. Tyrväinen emphasises that particularly nature areas must be seen as a resource of health care for city dwellers. According to many studies, forests promote both physical and mental well-being.

Large nature areas muffle noise and improve air quality by removing dust and other impurities and by binding ozone and monoxide gases.

It is also proven that an outing in nature and just being there lift the mood. Forests have a great therapeutic significance.

On the basis of studies, one can influence one’s state of health by being and moving in a nature environment. Especially in one’s favourite spot in nature, it is possible to regulate one’s condition towards promoting health.

“According to studies, people experience stronger recovery from stress on pleasant exercise routes often situated in the forest and in larger outdoor exercise areas than in the street and outdoor spaces of city centres mentioned as favourite places.”

Blood pressure falls and  the organs recover in the forest

Tyrväinen’s research group has results measured with heart rate monitors and blood pressure meters on how quickly a nature environment and particularly the forest help recovery from stress.

The measurements and surveys were made with a test group of almost a hundred persons.

“The health benefits of a green environment are evident.

A stressed person recovers quickly in nature. Recovery in a green zone is apparent after just 15 minutes!”

“The results of joint studies made with the Japanese are indisputable. When people were taken into the forest, a decrease in blood pressure and pulse, a reduction in muscular tension and an increase in the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system were observed in the measurement results.”

The parasympathetic nervous system is most active in rest. From the effect of a parasympathetic impulse, the heart rate slows down and respiratory frequency is reduced. Being in the forest has a similar effect on the organs as yoga or meditation. The Finnish forest is a retreat.

People felt more vigorous and even more creative after being in the forest. Liisa Tyrväinen emphasises the aesthetics of nature. Stress is particularly removed by the experience of nature, an unbuilt, beautiful scenery and silence.

Liisa Tyrväinen recommends consciously combining nature experiences and moving in nature with a holiday trip.

It helps recovery from the strains of everyday life. “One nature trip is not enough to heal, but it can be an impetus for a change in lifestyle.”

A nature trip to the Finnish forest offers a holistic health package. It includes multisensory nature experiences, a clean and beautiful environment, outings in nature, accommodation and sauna close to nature, silence and healthy forest products, such as berries, mushrooms, wild vegetables and game.

Article by Visit Finland / Ari Turunen

Wild berries of the north are real superfood

The long summer days and cool temperature increase the aromaticity and pigments of wild berries. The unique aroma and the colours are produced by flavonoids and other polyphenols. The antioxidising efficiency of berries is greater than that of other plants.

Photo: Visit Finland/Asko Kuittinen

Over 40 edible berries grow in Finnish forests. Due to the arctic growing conditions, they contain exceptionally many bioactive compounds, i.e. vitamins and polyphenols.

Free oxygen radicals causing oxidation make holes in cell walls. Foodstuffs containing plenty of antioxidants prevent the involution of the organism.

The antioxidants are vitamins C and E, beta-carotene (vitamin A), selenium, zinc, carnosine and ubiquinone. In addition to these, there are many polyphenolic compounds with similar characteristics protective of the organism. There are a lot of them particularly in wild berries, which grow in the north.

IN 2012, the NDL (Nutrient Data Laboratory) laboratory, researching the nutritional data of the United States, removed the popular ORAC database, dealing with the antioxidant contents of foodstuffs, from its web pages.

The reason was that the health effect of polyphenols could not be accounted for in the data collected into the database.

Polyphenols are metabolic products and protective agents of plants whose effect is similar to that of antioxidants. Polyphenols protect plants from diseases and the sun’s rays. Wild berries growing in Finland have many protective compounds which also benefit humans.

– Finnish berries and the products manufactured from them have great opportunities as health products. Northern wild berries have been proven to be healthy, and they have been observed to have numerous health effects. A real superfood is a berry smoothie made of wild berries, sweetened with honey, for example, says research director, Dr. Carina Tikkanen-Kaukanen of Ruralia Institute of the University of Helsinki.

According to Dr. Tikkanen-Kaukanen, the real benefits of the Finnish wild berry are, in addition to its northern location, clean soil and clean air. The organic berries intended for export are obtained from Finnish certified organic forests.

Tikkanen-Kaukanen has long studied the health effects of wild berries. She is particularly interested in the anti-infective properties of berries.

The health effects of American cranberry have been known for a long time. It was scientifically proven in the 1990s that the proanthocyanidins of American cranberry can prevent the adhesion of coliform bacterium to the walls of urinary tracts.

– Now there is interest in Asia and particularly in China in the berries of northern Europe, such as bilberry.

Photo: Visit Finland/Kiki Kolembet

Berries prevent infections

According to Tikkanen-Kaukanen, particularly the clean wild berries of northern forests have properties which prevent bacterial infections. Researchers regard the resistance of bacteria to antibiotics as a phenomenon as serious as climate change, and according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it concerns every person all over the world.

– An additional problem is that not all have access to effective antibiotics. Annually over a million children die from untreated pneumonia and blood poisoning caused by the pneumococcus bacterium.

The phenolic compounds contained by berries can prevent the adhesion of several different bacteria to the organs.

They repel effectively, for example, the pneumococcus bacterium which causes the most common respiratory infections as well as preventing infection by the meningococcus bacterium which causes meningitis. The polyphenols of bilberry, blackcurrant, crowberry and lingonberry (anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins and flavonols) block the bacteria of the mouth and prevent the formation of caries and plaque in teeth.

– Now it is important to find new ways to fight infectious diseases. Ingesting berries as such or as products prepared from them, such as berry juice, is an effective way to prevent infections.

Tikkanen-Kaukanen’s research team tries to discover by means of clinical research whether the occurrence of nasal-pharyngeal infections can be reduced by means of berry juices.

The research team obtained the best results specifically with berry juices.

Photo: Visit Finland

Article by Visit Finland / Ari Turunen

Some summer moments

So as some of you might know, I absolutely love being near Finnish lakes. I ended up spending a lot of time this summer in the Finnish nature, particularly in Joensuu. Since I live close to the nature there, it’s really easy to just get on my bike and cycle to the lake or forest.

I also started making some videos this summer about exploring Finnish nature and practicing my photography (you can find them on www.jasontiilikainen.com). Anyways, here are some of the photos that I took this summer.

Pictured above is a small, lonely island soaking in the last bit of sunlight for the day. I went exploring on a few different islands this summer, and this lovely scene really caught my attention.

​Above​ is a shot that I took after rushing around on a lake by boat, trying to find the perfect place before the sunset. I managed to find this really nice place. I then waited for sunset and took the shot.​

In the picture above, I was exploring the shore of a lake in Joensuu. I found this nice little piece of driftwood just sitting around. I moved it slightly so that it would compliment the composition that I wanted, and then I took the shot just after the sun went down behind the horizon.

Above is a photo that I took in the forest. It was still about an hour or two before sunset, so I got some lovely sunlight coming into the forest from behind the trees. I love how green it gets here in Finland. Everything always looks so fresh and alive. The forest also has a really nice relaxing smell to it.

This sky in the above picture was amazing to behold. Being there and seeing this dreamy pink/purple colour in the clouds just felt completely out of this world. It was also really windy, and the clouds were moving really fast, giving it even more of a dramatic effect. Moments like these don’t happen every day in Finland, but when they do, they are amazing to witness.

Sometimes its difficult to concentrate on taking photos when you have mesmerising moments like this one shown in the picture above. The weather was at first incredibly cloudy, almost overcast, but after a while the clouds started to break apart. After breaking apart, I was left with a sky that truly amazed me. The formations and shapes in the clouds really complimented the simplicity of the foreground.

Pictured above is me standing on a rock at the end of the day. I had just finished doing my photography, and thought I’d take this picture just for fun.

I hope everyone has a great autumn! I’m sure the colours will be amazing as usual, and that there will be tons of amazing photographs to look at. Bye for now!

Finland receives a unique gift for its 100th birthday: a beautiful nature reserve by the sea

Finland’s mysterious and pure nature is an enchanting experience. Fresh air, thousands of blue lakes and endless forests attract both foreigners and Finns themselves.

This year an independent Finland turns 100 years old. What to give for a birthday present to this amazing country that seems to have already everything?

The great Finnish company Fiskars, known for its design, gives Finland and all Finnish nature lovers a unique gift: a nature reserve about an hour’s drive from the capital Helsinki.

It is a scenic Dagmar’s spring park in the scenic seaside cove in Southern Finland, municipality of Raasepori. Around the spring, there are beautiful sandy and rocky shores of the Baltic Sea and a fairytale-like old Finnish forest with charming paths. Water in the spring itself is said to be the best water in the world.

The park of the Dagmar’s spring is so special that even Russian Emperor Maria Fjodorovna is told to have visited there. Fjodorovna was originally born as Danish princess Dagmar.

You may know Fiskars from the orange scissors known by the whole world. Fiskars manufactures many other home, garden and kitchen tools. In 2016-2017, Fiskars employees have restored the Dagmar’s spring area so that the beach offers the most amazing natural experience for both boaters and walkers, near and far. The gift is exactly what Finland is at the best: natural beauty, cleanliness and peace.

Fiskars hands over the Dagmar’s park for Finland and for finnish people for the next 100 years with a annual rent of EUR 1. The donation to Metsähallitus will take place on Wednesday 30 August 2017.

By this unique donation, the Dagmar’s spring and its surrounding area become a formal nature reserve. The area is important both for history and for its culture and nature. Now the area lasts for the future generations as well.

My Finland

I have been living here in Finland for close to 7 years now, after coming to Finland in 2011 in search of new adventures. I fell in love with the arctic and a local Finnish woman and have never left. While Enontekiö and Kilpisjärvi are my home and base for my guiding business, I have been lucky enough to live and visit a large number of places throughout Finland. Below is a summary of my Finland, in 5 photos. Enjoy!

These are the fells of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park in the middle of autumn. This was taken the old fashioned way, out the window of a 2 seater aeroplane, piloted by my wife’s Uncle. The park has everything Lapland has to offer in one location, open fell tops, forests, marshes and lakes. As one of the national parks certified guides it was great to be able to see one of my workplaces from the air.

Kilpisjärvi, located in the arm of Finland, on the border of Sweden and Norway, is my home. There is nowhere else in Finland which offers the same mountainous landscapes. It’s a fantastic place for viewing the northern lights, and in winter you can ski or snowshoe pretty much anywhere you like. This shot is taken under Saana Fell looking over Lake Kilpisjärvi towards the Norwegian mountains.

At the other end of the country is Teijo National Park. It’s only a couple of hours from Helsinki, close to Turku and has around 80km of hiking trails. I was sleeping in of the laavu’s (a lean-to-shelter) in the park and was woken by the sun at around 4:30am to find myself shrouded in mist. This was one of the last photos I shot before the mist cleared. Misty mornings are common in Finland, particularly in autumn as the temperatures start to cool.

For me, this shot is winter. It’s one of the reasons I never went back to NZ. The temperature at the time was -42 C, the air was crisp and froze on the back of my camera every time I took a breath. When I looked through the viewfinder, my nose would freeze to the screen. Both our cars wouldn’t start and while most people stayed indoors, I was out exploring on snowshoes for a good couple of hours. I may not have been born in the north but I often feel as if I was meant to be.

I also love forests, which is a good thing as Finland is a land of forests, with seventy five percent of the country covered by them.  In the middle of summer, when everything is lush and green, that’s when they are at their best. This image was shot at Koli National Park back in 2015. The views from the top of the of the park are amazing, but it was the lushness of the forest which stood out for me.

Symphonic metal band Nightwish inspired by the backwoods

We share the same ancestors as the birch tree, from which this firewood was taken. That is the world’s most beautiful fact. Understanding how everything is connected, could provide an important insight into the well-being of mankind.

In the belly of a dark tipi-like hut, a bright fire hisses and crackles. Trees exhale their final breaths as gentle heat and smoke. Afternoon November rain taps on the roof.

Tuomas Holopainen is celebrating the sabbath. 20 years of Nightwish and a tour lasting a year and a half are now behind him.

‘I asked the band, what if we take a little breather after the tour. It would probably do our heads some good’, Tuomas explains.

‘Everybody thought it was a sound idea’, and now here we are.

The legacy of the backwoods.

At primary school, Tuomas was a lone wolf.

‘I didn’t have a lot of friends, but I didn’t want a lot either. At my childhood home I spent all my days in the local woods or the field. Frodo and Bilbo and Huey, Dewey and Louie were the best of the bunch.

The lonely days of childhood were not lonely in the negative sense. I made up imaginary friends, forest trolls and gnomes, and that took me into the forest everyday, I felt extremely happy there.’

Tuomas was not cut out to live in the city. At one point he studied biology and lived in Kuopio for half a year. That was enough urban life for him.

‘People often like things they’ve had exposure to as a child. And I’ve lived my whole life in Kitee in the middle of the forest. That’s something that’s always stayed with me, the desire to stay near the forest and the lake.’

Nature roars

When in nature, Tuomas hears music. During his daily forest walks, nature can inspire a part of a melody, the subject of a song, a phrase or some other idea. It won’t leave him alone.

‘There comes this need to get it out. The need to make it something concrete. And that need is like an unimaginable roar in the head’, Tuomas explains.

There is something intriguingly recognisable about the Finnish melody, chord structure and all-encompassing melancholy. Tuomas also describes Nightwish’s music as organic and thinks that he would be making a completely different kind of music if he had grown up in a big city.

‘There’s no denying that it’s a huge part of Nightwish’s identity, the fact that all band members are originally boys and girls from the countryside. It brings with it a certain amount of healthy naivité, innocence and good-natured childishness’.

Nature is also a perfect antithesis to the unrelenting torrent of the social media world.

‘I even notice in myself that I always have a phone in my hand or am sitting at a computer. It’s very difficult to stop and then when I do, I start to wonder if I’m being useful, why am I not doing anything, should I be achieving something in this performance-driven society?’

In the forest or on the lake shore, that feeling disappears.

‘At first I might feel that I really should be doing something. Why am I just sitting still or walking? But then I realise that there is no need for anything else.’

Our common ancestor

Nightwish’s Sacrament of Wilderness tells of how humans once tamed the wolf. The latest album, Endless forms most beautiful, is devoted entirely to nature and science, the miracles of life: evolution.

Tuomas reveals that making the record was a virtually spiritual experience for him.

‘Evolution is self-evident, but when reading Dawkins, I understood the poetry that is within that self-evidence. And it was an overwhelming experience to understand that every living being on this planet is our cousin, that we all have a common ancestor. We have a direct line of almost 4 billion years into the past’, Tuomas says.

‘Just think, your dad, his father and his father, that line doesn’t break for 4 billion years. The fact that we are descendants of survivors is quite an understatement.’

Tuomas points to the campfire.

‘The birch tree, from which that firewood has been taken, shares the same ancestor as us. These are facts, and to me this is the most beautiful fact in the world. It could be a very important insight into the well-being of mankind, if we could understand that everything is connected, that man is not above everything, but part of it’, Tuomas considers.

‘We couldn’t get all that across on one album, so we might have to continue.’

Acoustically on Ukko-Koli?

A couple of great travel fantasies of Tuomas’s are yet to be realised. The biggest of them is Alaska.

‘I have a strange fixation. Just the word, it has something mystical. And then one of my all-time favourite films, Into The Wild, fuelled that desire even more. I must get there one day, with a guide, so that I don’t end up as bear food’, ponders Tuomas.

For years he has also dreamed of spending a month in Lapland, away from people.

‘And I won’t leave for a month. There, I will be alone. I want to experience the isolation and that feeling of loneliness. And some of that survival spirit. One month’s gear in a backpack and that’s what I’ll survive with. This is something I definitely want to do some time.’

Tuomas has drawn music from nature, and he wants to combine the two in a way that hasn’t been done before.

‘I think it would be a really tempting idea to play acoustically from the top of Koli or somewhere else in nature. It would require a lot of work, but could be a suitably challenging arrangement project.’

Rain and sleet, cold and harsh winds

At the end of the summer Tuomas plans to hike. Staring at the fire, eating and drinking – enjoying the basic things in life in his favourite landscape, Finnish Lapland. The man says he’s never had a big urge to go anywhere else.

‘When I go hiking, I don’t like walking 3 km per day and then sleeping in wilderness huts. In my opinion you can and should stink of sweat. Experience the rain and sleet, the cold and harsh winds. With that you go through some kind of catharsis, inner cleansing’, thinks Tuomas.

He likes to hike with friends – his traditional hiking friends are Tony Kakko and Timo Rautiainen, both well-known Finnish artists.

‘We have a week booked in August, so we’re going to revive our hiking guild. We will also have foreign friends on that trip, who have never been to Finland, but who want to hike, so we’re going to take them along’, says Tuomas.

‘Just as it says in my favourite film, Into The Wild, happiness is only real when shared.’

‘I’m most proud of Finnish nature as a Finn’ [Finland 100/Suomi 100]

As Finland is celebrating its 100 years of independence in 2017, I could not come up with a far more excellent idea than talking to Finnish people from different walks of life about the idea of Finnishness. The centenary year gives the Finns plenty of reasons to look back at the past and rejoice at all their glorious achievements. I wanted to listen to the stories of Finnish people in order to get an insight into what it means to be a Finn, the Finnish way of life and future hopes for this Nordic nation. As would be expected, not everybody will tell the same story but combining them together can produce a powerful Finnish narrative that comprehensively reflects what this north European nation is like.

Emilia Leppänen is a student. She studies in an upper secondary school for adults and is a fast food worker. Finnish nature is dear to her heart. She loves exploring forests and takes great pride in living in a society where men and women have equal rights.

Enjoy the interview!

Q. Tell us briefly who you are and what you do.
I’m Emilia Leppänen, a 23-year-old girl from Pudasjärvi in northern Finland. I live in Oulu and am studying in an upper secondary school for adults. Right now I’m also working in the fast food industry, until I know what I want to do in my life.
My next aim is to join the Finnish army in January next year, and I’ve been preparing myself for that for many years. In Finland, the military service is mandatory for men but for women, it’s voluntary.
I love being in forests. I usually go hiking and camping whenever possible. Ice hockey, and nearly every kind of sport, is my hobby.

Q. What makes a Finn a Finn? What does being a Finn mean to you?
I think being a Finn means having some kind of craziness, sisu and perseverance. It’s also having rights and responsibilities at the same time. I think the Finnish identity is a huge privilege for us, too.

Q. What are you most proud of as a Finn?
Our nature, absolutely! We have all four seasons, including cold, dark winter with a full load of snow and summer without any darkness when the sun is shining all day and night. We even have a law that ensures everybody has the right to go to forests, wander and pick berries. It’s called “jokamiehenoikeus” (everyman’s right).
I am proud of the Finnish society. It offers us free education, great healthcare and other facilities for a good life regardless of where we want to start.
As a woman, I also enjoy having equal rights in the society. For me, it’s something I take for granted so much that I can’t always even appreciate it enough!

Q. Finns often prefer isolation to social interaction. Does that mean Finnish people consciously want to live an isolated life by avoiding a vibrant social life? Or is it just the way of life that has been going on for generations?
It’s not that we live in full isolation. Maybe we just don’t make friends so quick and it takes time for us to trust people. However, when you get that trust, you will always have a good, unbroken friendship. We don’t need shallow small talk with every passer-by because that gives us nothing. So why should we do that, then? We get everything we need to fulfill our social needs from our real friends.

Q. In 1940, the New York Times said ‘sisu’ is a word that explains Finland. If sisu is such a key part of Finnish identity, then I would define Finns using three words that all start with the letter ‘S’ — sisu, sauna and silence. To what extent do you think my definition is correct?
That’s a stereotype but on the other hand, where do stereotypes come from? There has to be something true about stereotypes.
As for sisu, it’s something we all appreciate and try to have. So it isn’t just a stereotype. One of our prides is the Winter War against the Soviet Union in 1939–40. We won it just because our soldiers had enough sisu to bear with the bone-chilling cold and the despair caused by the overpowering enemy.
And silence — we love it! Why should I talk to a stranger if I really have nothing to say? Just be quiet and everyone appreciates it.

Q. Can you explain more, perhaps using examples, what it is like to be a Finn with sisu? Let’s say you have been unemployed for long or experiencing some insurmountable life challenges. So if you are a Finn who has sisu, what will be your course of action to overcome these challenges?
Just trust the future. We have this saying “älä jää tuleen makaamaan” which means you must not stay lying in fire. You have to act and strive to move forward. When you will feel like you have no more strength and are about to give up, sisu will give you more power to stay the course. So you accept the situation you have and do everything that you have to do. If you are unemployed and have sisu, find a job that may not have always been your dream job or start doing something else that gives you a feeling of satisfaction. But you never, never go down and give up!
We even have a law that ensures everybody has the right to go to forests, wander and pick berries. It’s called “jokamiehenoikeus” (everyman’s right).
Having sisu in a difficult situation is like disregarding what your mind and body say, and then going ahead despite exhaustion, desperation or thin chances of success.

Q. One way of describing sisu is the ability to persevere in the face of extreme adversities. Success, as we know, comes with hard work and great perseverance. Do you think having sisu increases your chance of success in life?
If you want to achieve something that is difficult to get, let’s say in your studies, then you have to study really hard and take good preparations. Maybe you have been trying to achieve it for the last five years and have not succeeded yet. But if you stop, you will never get it. So you have to keep on trying.
It’s the same when it comes to applying for the job that you really want but which seems impossible to get.
You can achieve a lot with your sisu but you have to understand that not everything that is happening to you is happening because you made it happen.

Q. Let’s add two more words beginning with ‘S’ — salmiakki and shyness. Salmiakki holds a special place in the heart of Finns, and Finns have been described as shy people. Interestingly, the Finnish word for Finland — Suomi — also begins with ‘S’. Tell us more!
Almost every Finn loves salmiakki! It’s my own favourite and I believe it wouldn’t be so crazy to foreigners if they start getting used to it since the beginning of their stay in Finland.

I don’t want to think that we Finns are shy. In Finland, you must not speak loudly or use a lot of gestures because Finnish people just don’t do that unless they’re drunk or messed up. That’s not our typical habit and that’s why it makes us feel uncomfortable. When foreigners do that, we feel uncertain and kind of lose our social skills and then become quiet. That’s not the same thing as being shy.

Courtesy: Emilia Leppänen

Q. Finland and other Nordic countries are regularly ranked among the world’s happiest nations. Why are the Finns so happy? What is your definition of happiness?
We have a great society and I think we have achieved a lot just because we pay our taxes. Foreigners may think it’s expensive to live in Finland but most of us are paying taxes with great pleasure. Thankfully, this system has given us so much. That’s the thing in the Nordic countries.
They say happiness is about having the chance to affect your own life and to feel safe. Well, taxes have made this country perfect for that.

Q. In contrast, we have an upsetting picture. Research says 1 in 10 Finns suffers from chronic loneliness. Also, depression is a big concern and suicide rate is high here. What’s your opinion on ‘Finnish happiness’ when you take these saddening issues into account?
That’s really sad, of course. We have a great mass of young people who don’t have jobs and that’s the biggest reason why we have this loneliness problem. When you live in a small place without job or hobbies, it’s hard to get friends. Then there are people who become marginalised because of depression, which stems from a broken childhood. The effect of war fought by our forefathers is still on and that’s one reason why the extent of alcohol problems is so grave in our society, for example. Alcoholism is passed down from parents to children, and thus is a vicious cycle which is hard to break.
Winter is also a big problem here. Our long, dark and cold winter can be hard to survive even if you love it. Kaamos, the polar night in English, affects us physically. We feel disconnected and exhausted. We even have a medical term for “seasonal affective disorder”, which is depression caused by the polar night.
All these can put a dent in our happiness.

Q. In 2010, Finland was named the best country in the world by American weekly magazine Newsweek. Also, World Economic Forum’s 2015 travel and tourism competitiveness report ranked Finland as ‘the safest place on earth’. What is your reaction to these rankings?
It makes me feel more and more proud, thankful and privileged to live in this country!

Q. If you were given the choice of living anywhere in the world, would you still live in Finland? If yes, why? If not, why?
Absolutely yes! I love this society, nature, climate and Finnish people. I am not saying one can’t be happier somewhere else but for me, all I have here is just perfect.

Courtesy: Emilia Leppänen

Q. Do you think Finland can benefit from the skills of foreigners?

From foreigners, we can learn communality and positive attitude. It wouldn’t be bad for us at all.

Q. What are the challenges of living in Finland? Also, what are the positive sides?
Like I said, societal indisposition, alcoholism and marginalisation are the biggest problems here. On the other hand, the positive sides are our great society, including healthcare and education, climate, nature, and sisu.

Q. Finland’s economy is not doing well in the recent years. In 2015, Alexander Stubb described Finland as ‘the sick man of Europe’. And in 2016, the European Commission said Finnish economy was among the worst in the EU. What’s your future hope for the Finnish economy?
I hope everything will get better in the coming days and I believe it. Since I do not know a lot about how to make our economy better, I’m not the best person to make comments. This is why I have to trust our politicians.

Q. How do you feel about the austerity measures taken by the present government? Finland has gained worldwide fame for its educational success but education budget has been heavily affected by these measures. Do you think it will mean a loss of quality of education?
Yes, I do. Education is the most important tool to build a great society and you’ll get nothing good by slashing education budget. Speaking of the austerity measures on education, there will be consequences down the road and it will be hard to fix the damage.

Q. Starting from January 2017, Finland, as part of a new 2-year basic income experiment, will give 560 euros a month to 2,000 unemployed people each. The objective of the trial is to see if it can increase employment and reduce poverty. What’s your opinion on this? Do you think it will finally be able to boost employment figures?
I think providing basic income will be a good idea. Without basic income, it can be more profitable to stay home under the protection of the welfare system than going to work. I think we will be able to avoid this problem by evaluating the results of this new trial. Then the unemployment problem may be reduced as well.

Q. Who is your national hero in Finland? Tell us more.
I can’t come up with just one name. All war veterans are my heroes.

Q. For a foreigner, it is difficult to befriend a Finn. If I’m a foreigner and I want to make a Finnish friend, is there any golden rule that I can follow?
One thing — give us space, physically and psychically. Some scientists have found that the Finns need about 30cm more personal space than other nationalities and you have to respect this. At the same time, we find it very impolite if we are interrupted when we speak. You should never start speaking if the other person is not done yet with what he has to say. Wait for your own turn and don’t interrupt.

I think being a Finn means having some kind of craziness, sisu and perseverance.
Also, it’s okay if there are silent moments during the conversation. I say the longer you can be in silence with a Finn, the better friendship you will develop. You have to be patient, and just give us time and space.

Q. What does Finnish independence mean to you? And what’s your wish for your country as it is celebrating its 100th year of independence? Is there any area where you think Finland can do much better?
To me, independence is having our own language, freedom, human rights and national pride, including respect for our veterans. I hope we’ll preserve these all, and will ensure that our economy and well-being are on a better track.

Q. Finland is a highly egalitarian society, with women enjoying equal rights and opportunities as men in all fields of life. Gender equality is deeply rooted in the Finnish society. What is it like to live as a woman in such a society?
Like I already said, equality is something I take for granted. I can’t imagine how bad it will be if equality does not exist. If there is no equality, I won’t be able to do many things only because I’m a woman.

Moreover, because I live in this egalitarian society, I can get the job and education I want. The law is the same for men and women. I’ve human dignity and I’m free. Nobody can possess me or treat me badly.

If you are a Finn, I’d love to hear your story and your ideas of Finnishness.

Your academic background, profession or other aspects of your life are not important at all for responding to my interview. If you are a Finn, I want to know what you have to say about Finnish society, life, culture and everything else that define Finland and Finnishness. Just throw me an e-mail at r2000.gp@gmail.com and I’ll be in touch ASAP. You can send me the answers to the interview questions by email, and I will publish your story on this blog. In other words, where you live does not matter — from north to south to east to west, wherever you are, I am here to hear.

This article was originally published here by Mahmudul Islam.

FINNISH WINTER COTTAGE (Welcome To Finland #3)

By Timo Wilderness.

We made a trip to a hideout cottage to Northern Finland near Lapland. All the traditional joys like cross-country skiing, sauna and ice swimming included. The whole thing was ridiculously stereotypical Finland. And so beautiful.

MORE WTF:
WTF#1 NORTHERN LIGHTS
WTF#2 NATIONAL PARK NUUKSIO

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Spending a night in a hammock in every season

For few years, I had been sleeping many nights in my hammock in the woods of Finland. “Wait, you said sleeping in a hammock?” you might ask at this point.

Yes, in a hammock!

People know tents, but what comes for a good option for solo travelers and hikers, hammocks are slowly becoming an option.

People know what hammocks are, since many might have had some sort of hammock in their garden or backyard. But how many have been thinking to use it in the woods?

Few years ago i started looking for a tent for myself. I had been doing small day hikes in the local forests,  and I wanted to spend a night there too. While I was looking for reviews about certain tents, I found an article, A tent or a hammock?

This really got me interested about hammocks, and I wanted to find more information. I found sites like The Ultimate Hang and Hammock Forums. Also a well-known hammock guy Shug, has a great Youtube channel for information and how-to’s.

Basically a hammock is easy to set up: all you need is two trees. Depending on the length of your hammock, you have to find trees that are 4–5 meters apart.

At the Repovesi National Park in Southern Finland

I love hammocks because they are so versatile. It’s also great being able to see the weather outside. When I wake up, I just open the zipper and sit like I would sit in my bed. I can reach out and turn on the stove, and a bit later I can enjoy coffee in my bed.

It’s not hard to find two trees where I can set my hammock – it’s even easier than finding a good spot for a tent. No spiders, ants or other insects or snakes bother me while I sleep.

A bit later I bought my first hammock, Ticket To The Moon double. I have used it quite many times already. After getting some more experience I have bought a few other models as well, like DD Hammocks Frontline, Warbonnet XLC and Amok Draumr.

Hammock

Amok, DD Frontline, Ticket To The Moon and Warbonnet

There are many hammock manufacturers like Warbonnet, Amok, Ticket To The Moon, ENO, DD Hammocks etc. However, very few of them are sold here in Finland.

A simple hammock is a single big fabric, which are tied from the ends. These are called gathered end hammocks. Some manufacturers use parachute fabric such as silk, and some use different kinds of nylon. Fabric also gives the strength to the hammock, and there are certain user weight limits.

Most hammocks are one or two layer modes. A double layer allows you to put an insulation pad between the layers. Double layers might have the weight limit up to 300 kg.

Amok and Exped have models that require airpads to build a frame. Without the pad, the hammock is quite useless. In these hammocks you lay sideways, which has benefits such as a very comfortable lay. Amok has designed this model to be more adjustable, so you can also comfortably sit on it by pulling the adjustment straps.

Comfort lay

In the standard hammocks, you have to lay in the same diagonal direction (e.g., head on the left, feet on the right or vice versa). This way you will have the best possible lay in the hammock. It also helps to avoid possible knee or calf pressure that could make you uncomfortable. The foot end has to be a bit higher than the head end, so you won’t feel any sliding.

It is possible to sleep on your side, but stomach sleepers will have problems.

If the hammock is too tight, you feel shoulders squeezed. If it’s too loose, it has a calf ridge in the middle of the foot end, which causes pain to the feets. The longer the hammock is, the more comfortable you get. The hammock should be at least 1 meter longer that the user.

When the hammock is in banana shape and the suspensions are in a 30 degree angle down from the tree attachment points, that’s when you get the most comfortable sleeping position.

Suspension

Suspension is one the most important parts of the hammock. This will hold you between the trees. The best thing is to use so-called tree huggers, which are usually 2,5 cm wide straps. These straps are important, because they will also protect the tree bark. Some use a thick cords such as paracord, but they leave very bad pressure markings to the bark. The tree might be badly damaged from those ropes.

If the suspension is pulled too tight, it might break. This is because the forces are very high, bigger than in the 30 degree setup. A 30 degree angle has only the same weight as the user. Straight line might have 10 times of user weight.

There is many ways to hang a hammock. Some use hooks, carabiners, buckles, whoopie slings (dyneema cord) or just plain wide rope. Buckles and whoopie suspension are also adjustable, so it will be much easier to set.

Tarps

Hex, square, Hex modification from square tarp and hex with doors

Tarpaulins are usually known as tarps. A tarp will cover you from the sun, rain and wind. Most of them are made of nylon, some lightweight solutions are made of cuben fiber fabric.

Usual tarps are 3 meters by 3 meters, but also larger ones like 4 m x 4m are available. There are also so-called hex shape tarps, and some of them have doors. This allows you to cover yourself from the wind or rain much better. You can also set the regular square tarp as a hex with doors by using the loops sewed to the sides.

Insulation

To be able to sleep warm and comfortably, you need to have good insultation around you. To cover your back, a sleeping bag simply isn’t enough, since it will compress under you and loose its insulation.

One way is to use pads, such as foam or air pads. Both are good options, and depending on the weather and the pads R-value, it will insulate your back. Down sides are that air pads can not inflate fully, because the shape will affect to the lay. Other one is that it might slide under you, when you are turning or moving.

Underquilts are a great option, since they don’t affect to the lay. A quilt is around you, under the hammock, and will cover your back and also your sides. An underquilt has its own suspension, that usually is shock cord. They are attached to the hammock ends. An underquilt has to be set tidily under the hammock, so that it will seal well. Even small air gaps let the warm air escape, and you will have a cold back or cold feet.

Topquilts are basically sleeping bags without a zipper and a hood, and they are used the same way as a blanket. This allows you to move more freely and getting up is much easier. I use sleeping bags too, but they are sometimes very annoying to use, because you have to get in and wiggle like a worm to get in it well. I am a restless sleeper so I use sleeping bags in colder seasons.

Are hammock systems light? Yes and no.

There are many ultralight options like DD Hammocks superlight series. They need very little space and their total weights are less than a kilo. They have limitations too, for example the maximum user weight is a 100 kg.

Choosing light material will save weight, but it will also increase the price.

These are just the basics for the hammock. To find out more, I recommend these websites: Ultimate Hang, Shug’s youtube and Hammock Forums.

Warbonnet with super fly tarp. Both in porch mode.

Today I am mostly using the Warbonnet Blackbird XLC. It is quite a long hammock, 335 cm, and it offers many great features. Such as removable bugnet, designed footbox for better lay and comfort, and a great view outside. Really long straps with buckles are great, they protect the bark in the trees. Buckle suspension is easy to use and it holds well. Bugnet is removable, which changes it to a Traveler hammock. With the bugnet, you also have a storage shelf, which is very useful. I usually put my eyeglasses and my phone there. The total weight is 1,1 kg, and it has double layers with 180 kg weight limit. I have slept well many nights in the Warbonnet.

Warbonnet hammock and tarp review can be read in Finnish from HERE.

Super Fly’s

The tarp is a Warbonnet Super Fly, which has 2000 mm water barrier. It is 335 cm long and 305 cm wide.  Both ends have doors, which can be closed to get more cover from the wind and rain. This tarp is designed to be used in the winter as well. It has pull outs on both sides to make more space inside. This tarp is very light, weighing around 500 grams. With the stakes and cords the total weight is 700 grams. This tarp is well made using good materials, but the pull outs need to be sealed with silicon etc, so that any water won’t drip inside.

Cumulus Selva 600 underquilt

To cover my back from the cold temperatures of the Finnish winter, I bought new down underquilt, the Cumulus Selva 600. Its Pertex fabrics are a great protect from moisture. The outer fabric is also water-resistant. The hydrophobic down is also said to be less sensitive to moisture, although not everyone agrees. The loft is amazing and this is truly a quality work. This is size L, which means that it’s 235 cm long. The size M is available too, with 215 cm lenght, and in my opinion it’s better for regular hammocks. The size L works well with Warbonnet, because it is 45 cm longer than Ticket to the moon.

A draft collar helps to seal the air leaks from the ends.

Selva 600 is comfortable to use in -14°C. The limit is -22°C. I slept warm and cozy in -10°C.

Cumulus is well known for their down clothes and sleeping bags. You can read the full review from my site HERE.

As a top insulation, I use my Haglöfs Cornus +2 bag, mostly from late spring to later fall. In the summer I just use it as a blanket. In winter time I have my Savotta Military bag, which has comfort around -15°C.

A -10°C night behind, snug as a bug, warm and toasty

I have slept over a hundred nights in my hammock. To me it is a cozy bed, where I can read, sleep and even eat! Because I love to be near water, I have found great places where I can wake up and see the lake. We have our own Finnish hammock group where I have met great people who share the same interests. We have had a few meetings with lots people.

To me, hammocks are the perfect solution for sleeping in the woods. With a hammock I am able to choose my place better that with a tent. Surely, using a hammock requires more attention so that I won’t hurt myself. It’s more complex in some cases and needs more things to know, like knots for example. A backpack needs to be under the hammock or tied down to a tree.

It took some time to find myself a good hammock, and I have been enjoying the Finnish nature in many ways, all seasons, all weather, with friends, or alone.