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Sounds of silence

Lapland is known for its pure air, vast wilderness and the fact you can escape all noise. Enjoy silence. When is the last time you could let go and float into meditative mode surrounded by nothing but nature, hearing nothing but the wind and occasional bird? I am lucky to live in Lapland but actually sitting still in the forest doing nothing is something I hardly ever do. I did now.

Road to nowhere

I spread out my map on the kitchen table and had a good look. I didn’t get much wiser by looking at it, so I closed my eyes and placed a finger randomly on the map. Ok, looks just as good as anywhere, I shall go somewhere there!

I packed snowshoes and drove off. I already felt good and relaxed, as there were absolutely no expectations. I wasn’t really aiming anywhere particular, no mission, no time limits or anyone else to look after. I realised I often get a bit anxious because of all the planning and gearing up hiking and skiing trips include.

The random road I chose went on and on and on. I even woke up a reindeer who was standing still in the middle of the quiet road, head drooping. Lazily he moved out of the way. At some point I just pulled over, put on my snowshoes and headed straight into the woods.

Sounds of snow

The snow was deep and fluffy. Even with snowshoes on I was knee deep in there. On each step there was mute fluffy part on the top, and a crunchy layer underneath. The crunchiness was due to hardened snow, as a week ago temperatures rose temporarily as high as +2 C. Snow feels and sounds different every day, depending on temperature now and in the past couple of weeks.

I kept on snowshoeing until I needed a break to catch my breath.

The Sun was setting as it always is midwinter. The sky looked like a trend colour catalogue from the 80’s. Beautiful lavender, purple, pink, peach and yellow pastel shades. I had to close my eyes as the ridiculously beautiful sky was filling my head and blocking other senses.

Silence isn’t silent

I could only hear the beating of my heart. So loud! After few minutes my body had recovered and I could listen properly. Annoyingly the first sound I recognised was a snow mobile going fast somewhere in the distance, probably on a lake I had passed by car. Here, in the wilderness, in the arms of Mother Nature, a motorised vehicle. Quite a turn off.

Ok. I kept standing still, no hurry.

A crow.

Wind catching the tree tops, making some branches to drop their snow load on the ground.

Nothing.

Standing still surrounded by trees is very calming. They are just there, wanting nothing from you.

A dog barking far away few times.

A little bird calling shortly, probably Siberian tit.

I noticed my breathing became deeper and slower. Indoors it’s often short and shallow. It’s not something I normally would pay attention to. But now I have time to observe. I also remembered to be grateful for the pure air. In Muonio where I live in Lapland, the air is actually the purest of all Europe.

Nothing.

Wind in the tree tops again.

Me singing, noticing there was a cool echo.

BEEP of my phone, receiving a message.

..And the moment was ruined.

Back home all relaxed

Hiking alone has its advantages. You don’t have to fill the space by talking non stop. You can concentrate on being very quiet, thinking nothing at all. For me this works better than any meditation. Also, if it is longer than a day trip, you have to keep your phone off to save the battery! In the wilderness, further from the roads, there is no network anyway.

I think I’m going to do this again – just head somewhere with no expectations, just to breath, listen and be.

Photos by Joona Kivinen, from another trip as I didn’t want any cameras on my retreat of silence.

These holy fells are two billion years old – Pyhä area, Lapland

Pyhä area in Lapland is a row of beautiful fells. The name Pyhä means holy. They looked special in the eye of the ancient Sámi people, but also geologically these fells are something else: They’ve been around for two billion years. The round fells we see today are the roots of ancient high and mighty mountains. Come and see for yourself! But respect the sacred surroundings.

Noitatunturi, “the Witch Fell” is an old sacrificial place and the highest peak of Pyhä fells, reaching 540 m. Photo: Joona Kivinen

Sacred place for the Sámi people

The fells and the grand gorges between them look so unique that the ancient Forest Sámi people held the place sacred. There are several sacrificial and worship places, “seita”, in the area that you can visit. A seita can be a unique rock formation or special kind of a tree. It was believed that spirits and gods lived in such places.

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Isokuru is the deepest gorge in Finland, plunging down 220 meters. It is 1,5 km long.

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On the bottom, there are many stories from the past if you pay attention. For instance, in the summer you see wave figures in the rocks, reminding of the time this place was under water.

Geological wonderland

Besides being culturally important, the Pyhä fells are special regarding the whole history of our planet: They belong to the oldest mountains in the world!

The age of the Earth is 4,5 billion years. The age of the main rock type (quartzite) in Pyhä fells has been dated to 1,9-1,8 billion years. These round cuties of today used to be massive mountains, reaching 4 km in height! Kind of like the Alps look today. Except that the Alps are wearing nappies compared to the ancient Pyhä fells, as they are only around 55 million years old. The difference in age is so huge it is hard to grasp.

The ice ages have done their part in sculpting the area. Massive glacier, as high as 3 km, has gone back and forth with warming and cooling climate and has rubbed the sharpness off the fells. Melting water from the glacier has gone through the gorges, carving them deeper and deeper.

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These Pyhä fells have seen it all. Literally. They have been here for half of the Earth’s lifetime.

Enjoy the National Park

In Pyhä-Luosto National Park there are many marked nature trails for your enjoyment all year round: Up the fells, down to the gorges or out to the open wetland on duckboards.

Whether you are into ancient cultures, geology, extreme sports or blissful nature, Pyhä has it all.

It is December and the day light is short. You only have a couple of hours of light, before having to turn the headlamp on. Then again, at noon it is both sunrise and sunset at the same time so the sky is just breathtaking. Then darkness falls for another 20 or so hours. But you have plenty of time to enjoy the northern lights…

Pyhä Visitor Centre

Map

5 + 1 things that Nature can teach us about spending Christmas

Finnish Nature is a fine place to quiet down at any time. It is always near, and here in Finland it is still possible to find a spot of absolute stillness, where no traffic or other human made noise can be heard. Just the sounds and smells of forest, rivers or the sea.

During Christmas season we often get stressed. We are in such a hurry to create the perfect setting, perfect food and perfect gifts for our loved ones. Nature, on the other hand, is as calm as ever even in the high season. Maybe there is something we could learn from Nature about how to spend Christmas without the hurry and the buzz.

Photo by Minttu Heimovirta

1. Peace

Nature does not ask questions, complain or insist. It isn’t impatient or anxious.

In midwinter, Nature is truly still and at peace.

Go for a walk – only your footsteps can be heard. You can feel the energy of the sleeping earth under your feet. But to experience it you must remember to stop. And be absolutely quiet.

Photo by Minttu Heimovirta

2. Unselfish generosity

Above the silent ground, the Moon and the Sun ride across the sky day and night after another. They light our paths at all times, and without asking they paint the sky blue, purple and red, making such mixes even the most skillful painters get jealous. All that we humans can do is enjoy the view and sigh: Oh how beautiful!

3. Living in a moment

In Christmastime, the northern part of Finland is covered with a thick layer of snow. In the south, the ground can appear bare but is covered with fallen leaves. Under Nature’s own winter blanket the earth is resting and gaining its strength. In the spring Nature will blossom again in its full glory, but just now it is dim, silent and mysterious. Nature is not inpatient, it is content with this very moment.

4. Gratitude

Under ground, there are all kinds of animals sleeping in Christmastime: bears, badgers, even perhaps the moomins. On the ground, however, life is a struggle. birds are doing all they can to find something to eat, so are mooses and hares. Reindeer have to dig snow to find some lichen under the cover. Animals don’t waste time wishing they had more. They are grateful for every bite.

Photo by Minttu Heimovirta

5. Licence to relax

Nature doesn’t apologise for not offering blooming flowers or gleaming waters in the winter. It doesn’t suffer from a bad conscience if it’s not all neat and tidy. Nature knows its value and takes a break when it is needed. Maybe you shouldn’t worry about what other people might think either.

+1: Joy

After Christmas the Sun begins to bathe the earth with its bright colours longer and longer. In the northernmost Finland the Sun returns after Kaamos, the arctic night, when it hasn’t even showed in a month or more. Before long, you can hear the rivers and their rapids roar, and see plants emerge again from the ground and grow taller and taller.

Christmas is a turning point for Nature. Soon the stillness of winter will end. And new time begins. Enjoy the rest now.

We wish everybody peaceful Christmas and happy new year!

Ice fishing in Finland is an exotic way to enjoy nature

First impressions about ice fishing are usually negative. Even many Finns think it’s a cold and boring hobby. Actually it’s just the opposite.

Imagine yourself walking or skiing on the ice of a frozen lake or sea. There might be dozens of meters of water below you. Only half a meter of ice is between you and the freezing cold water.

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I once heard somebody asking “is this really a lake?” It was a man who had never seen a frozen lake before. It’s sometimes difficult to understand that you are actually on the top of a large water pool. When you drill a hole to the ice and drop your ice fishing lure towards the bottom, you finally realize whats happening.

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Ice fishing gets even more exciting when you fish in the wilderness. You never know in advance if the lake has any fish in it at all. Or maybe there haven’t been any fishermen in years and it’s full of huge pikes or salmons. When you drill the first hole and put your lure into the water…

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Ice fishing isn’t only about fishing or catching a fish. It’s also about enjoying the nature, peace and silence. If you go outdoors at winter time, the easiest place to wander is on ice. When there is snow everywhere, the nature is so silent and peaceful.

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If you go walking on ice at a cloudless night and full moon, you don’t need any extra light source. Everything is changing into a fairy tale.

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With the everyman’s right in Finland you can ice fish in lakes and sea areas for free (there are a few exceptions). We have a long sea coast line and almost 200 000 lakes.  You can find a lot of pikes, perches and roaches in almost every lake. When you go more north, you can find a lot of graylings, trouts, salmons and some arctic chars also.

Can you believe? This is how 15 minutes in a forest affects you!

There is such strong magic in Finnish forests that one may not even believe it. The forest is like open arms; ready to embrace you without judging, to give power and support. It caresses you with its beauty, sounds and smells, and it feels good on your skin, too.

Only 15 minutes in a forest make you a better person. It makes you feel alive.

Stepping into a forest is like walking through a gate. You leave all the fuss, busy life and smooth asphalted roads behind, to be greeted with peace and fragrant nature.

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Those who believe in research will have no option but to believe this. Among others, the Natural Resources Institute Finland has found out that even a short visit to a forest makes people feel better – it relieves stress and increases sense of vitality.

A trail persuades you to adventure deeper into the heart of the forest. Step by step, hurry and duties in everyday life are forgotten. Now, there is no need to perform, no need to always try and be perfect. You can be just the way you are – just be there.

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The body begins to rest. Breathing becomes easier and deeper at the same time. You start to feel better and stronger with every inhalation.

The harmony of scents is ineffable. It may even feel like you’re actually breathing for the first time in your life.

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The air in the forest smells good. It may smell like damp moss, rain, wet tree trunks, flowers, and needle-covered path.

It may smell like a tree stump that is already creating new life, or even snow, frost, and softwood.

According to a research, just five hours per month in a forest will greatly improve our mental health. What about, say, five hours per week, then?

However, not many of us need researches to believe just how good it is for us to spend time in the woods. We Finns are lucky – we can go and enjoy the forests almost any time and any place. We have learned and grown into thinking that the forest is good for us.

The light of the forest plays with shadows and colours between the trees. It may be warm or cold, gloomy or bright, yet seen with one’s heart at ease, it is always safe, familiar, and beautiful.

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When you explore the little wonders and details in the forest with devotion, you lose sense of time. The forest is a world where time doesn’t matter.

The forest takes care of us, and it also raises our children. It has a preventive effect on allergies, for it makes us stronger through spreading good bacteria. We only get them if we habitually go into nature, starting from an early age.

The effect of near nature on us can be huge at best. The forest may help develop an interest and love for all living things. It is worth introducing even the youngest child to nature and biodiversity, only to see, perhaps, how she will get endlessly excited about birds, butterflies, or bugs, for instance.

If we have a chance to grow surrounded by nature from an early age, it will leave an unerasable, good mark on us for the rest of our lives.

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It feels safe to be among tree trunks. The forest is a safe haven, a place to rest. Fewer thoughts come to your mind, and the hustle and bustle in your head quiet down. It is easy to enjoy even little things and distinguish between what is important and what is not.

The eyes can finally rest, too: the gaze is not tormented by bright lights, shiny surfaces, nor by man-made constructions. You can give your eyes rest by looking far into the woods or tree tops.

Nature is impeccably beautiful in all the chaos mastered by Mother Earth.

Plump tussocks of moss invite you to touch them, and so do tree trunks, rocks, and everything else you encounter along the trail. Sink your hand into the moss and feel the fresh, scented earth. Push your ear to the trunk of a dead pine tree, and you will hear greater wisdom than even the wisest human can ever offer you.

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The forest helps us remember who we are and where we come from.

It cures us through all our senses. Our eyes can rest and enjoy the beauty of nature; our ears can have a moment of silence and concentrate on the sweet sounds of nature; we can feel the nature with our hands, feet, or even with our cheekbones; in our noses, we feel the unbelievable scents of the earth, trees, water, and rocks, that so vividly change with the weather and seasons.

We may put sweet and tasty berries in the mouth, just like other animals, big and small alike.

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In the woods, you may head down to the waterfront. Listen to the ripple and feel what it smells like and what it tells you.

How beautiful is the sound of water! It may be a lively forest brook, a pond, maybe a lake, or a mighty river. It is a different world that lives right next to you and gives your mind a chance to rest and become stronger.

Wonder what lives and goes on beneath the surface of water? The gurgle and brisk stream create a feeling of wholeness – you could stare at the stream for ever.

The water smells fresh and lively. It is full of energy that you can easily absorb. That’s why spending time at a waterfront always feels so good.

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You are never alone in the forest. Never. There are many kinds of wanderers: big, small, winged, furry, fluttery, and crawling.

Near tree tops, there might be a flock of tits playing and chit chatting, or there might be a Siberian jay trying to talk to you.

It is said that a Siberian jay must always be greeted, for the bird might be your guide in the woods.

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Glance down, beneath mushrooms, into cavities between rocks, at tree roots.

Examine even smallest animals always with due respect, for we are all equal. Every beetle, snail and frog is a valuable and irreplaceable part of the forest.

The forest caresses and regenerates everyone who steps into its embrace – even those who do not care about it at all.

Yet those who do care and love it will gain more than anyone.