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.

cold hot fun

The real fun starts when it’s really cold

Winter in Finland brings all kind of opportunities. From winter sports to trying to catch the aurora borealis, it’s never really boring. When the temperature drops below -20C, I enjoy to go out with a thermos bottle of boiling tea or water. You’d think it’s to keep myself warm, right? Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

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Sunset vapor at -24C

That hot water will nearly insta-vaporize when it is thrown into the air.

When you attempt to do that, you can pour the hot water into a cup, so you have a few tries. Be sure you throw fast enough otherwise hot water could fall on you before it’s cooled down.

Vaporizing water in the cold air

Vaporizing water between trees

What else is in the photo is up to your imagination.

Stunning view with special effects – Helsinki in winter

In winter day is short in Helsinki, less than six hours day light at its shortest. Usually the sun hides behind the clouds, but when it shines, it is time to get out and enjoy the winter day.

Kaivopuisto in southern Helsinki offers beautiful view to the archipelago and nice walk by the waterfront. In November when weather gets cold, sea begins to freeze and boats are lifted to the dock yard for the winter.

When the busy small boat marina quiets down, a temporary bridge is set up between Kaivopuisto boardwalk and Uunisaari island. From Uunisaari and neighboring Liuskasaari islands stunning scenery opens up to the sea.

The place is popular but the atmosphere is so peaceful and seems that nobody is in a hurry.

In winter time, icy seaside cliffs and cold air make a strong contrast to the open sea. When the water has higher temperature than the air, steam begins to rise above the sea. That makes the scenery even more dramatic. Rocks and cliffs are beautiful when covered with ice. Be careful, they are slippery, too.

On a cold day, air above the sea is full of ice crystals and it is possible to see a special halo effect around the sun. Crystals reflect the light splitting it to the colors of rainbow.

Kaivopuisto is located 2 km from the city center and it is easy to reach by foot or tram. To enjoy the best views, head to the small islands.

During winter time, it is easy to get to the Uunisaari island via pedestrian bridge. When the boating season begins, bridge is removed and there is a boat connection. Uunisaari is a recreational area and there is a restaurant and a sauna. In winter bring your gloves and scarves and enjoy the view to the open sea.

Map – Uunisaari bridge

Coordinates: (ETRS-TM35FIN) N=6670343 E=386410

Information about Uunisaari can be found here.

This extreme outdoor activity is common In Finland – would you dare to try?

There might be a chance, that you feel cold in Finland during winter, especially if you’re not used to air temperatures below zero. If so happens, find a nearby winter swimming location and dip yourself into cold water. Paradoxically coldness warms you up. Be careful though – you might end up totally hooked to the hormone boost and the afterglow of winter swimming.

Better get used to it. Ice, our friend. Photo: Lauri Rotko.

Better get used to it. Ice, our friend. Photo: Lauri Rotko.

Lakes in Finland are frozen quite a long time in a year: in Lapland usually seven, in Central Finland five and in Southern part of the country at least four months. The Baltic Sea by the coast gets its ice cover in November-December, depending on annual weather conditions, and sea ice might thaw as late as in late May.

Ice, cold water, sun and friends - what more do you need? Lake Tuusula in Järvenpää.

Cold water, ice, snow, sun and friends – what more do you need? Winter swimming club at Lake Tuusula in Järvenpää. Photo: Päivi Pälvimäki.

Winter swimming (or ice hole/pool swimming, when done in an ice hole) is a traditional Finnish outdoor activity. We know for sure that people took cold-water baths in the 17th century. Probably much earlier than that, but we don’t have any documents of those practises. First winter swimming clubs were founded in the 1920’s and since then winter swimming as an outdoor and health enhancing physical activity has become increasingly popular.

Fell brook at Kiilopää arctic spa. Photo: Suomen Latu Kiilopää/Sampsa Sulonen.

Ice pool in Kiilopuro fell brook at Kiilopää, Lapland. A true arctic spa. Photo: Suomen Latu Kiilopää/Sampsa Sulonen.

If you want to experience the most traditional custom, combine sauna going and a dip in a hole in ice. The extreme temperature change really puts your blood circulating and releases many pain-relieving and pleasure hormones. Entering into cold water straight from sauna is not the healthiest thing to do, so you ought to cool off a bit in between. Usually this happens naturally, when you walk outside in frosty air from sauna to an ice pool.

Wait, I'll do it again! Winter swimmers at Lake Lohja. Photo: Vivienne Rickman-Poole.

Wait, I’ll do it again! Winter swimmers at Lake Lohja. Photo: Vivienne Rickman-Poole.

Go slowly into water, breath slowly out and dip yourself into water as short as you like. You might feel tickling in your fingers and toes, red spots might occur on your skin and you might have difficulties to keep up your normal breathing rhythm. They are normal reactions to cold-water immersion, do not panic and run away, especially because it might be very slippery. When you come out of water, you’ll start slowly feeling better and better and better and better…and you want to go back into that freezing embrace of water. After dipping/ swimming warm up slowly and drink something warm. Cold-water immersion is a positive shock to your body. When you do it regularly you will be able to stand better stress and your immune system becomes stronger.

Frosty morning at Allas Sea Pool in Helsinki.

Frosty morning at Allas Sea Pool in Helsinki.

Winter swimming season in Finland starts when water temperature goes below 10 °C, which happens in Southern Finland in October. There are over 260 registered winter swimming locations, where you can actually swim, not just dip. In Helsinki there are 14 winter swimming locations.

Great locations for winter swimming:

  • Fell Centre Kiilopää in Lapland, Northern Finland: Coldest water ever, minus degrees. Swim in Kiilopuro fell brook and then relax in a smoke sauna afterwards. Next day you will be so energized that you’ll ski over fells in no time. The true arctic spa!
  • Allas Sea Pool in Helsinki (opens again in May 2017): Urban treasure. A seawater 25 m pool with unique city view. Also a heated fresh water 25 m pool, children’s pool, saunas and a restaurant.
  • Löyly in Helsinki: Sculptural architecture and windy winter swimming in the Baltic Sea. A beautiful smoke sauna and good food.
  • Lake Kuusijärvi in Vantaa near Helsinki: Easy access. Winter swimming training. A 25 m ice pool and saunas.
  • Winter Swimming Centre Joensuu Polar Bears in Joensuu, Eastern Finland.
  • Rauhaniemi Ice Swimming in Tampere, Central Finland.
  • Herrankukkaro in Turku area, Western Finland.

Read more:

Swimming Holidays in Finland – for bespoke swimming holidays and swimming guiding services
Wild swimming in Finland
VisitFinland/winterswimming

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!

What are Santa’s reindeer like?

We know Rudolph, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen and the other reindeer pulling Santa’s Important Sleigh by name, but really nothing else. I went to find out what Santa’s reindeers are really like. They live all around Lapland, some in Torassieppi, Muonio.

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Meet Rolle, one of Santa’s less famous reindeer. The antlers are pretty impressive! Rolle is always willing to work hard and he is very patient with humans (and elves). He stood still for the photo shoot like a real pro model. Did you know that reindeer see ultraviolet light! The world looks very different with Rolle’s eyes.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to meet Rudolph, as he was resting and saving his energy for the Big Day. But there are big personalities amongst the others as well.

Antlers are a signal of fitness

The bigger the antlers, the better father material you are in the eyes of the ladies. Lads cannot cheat and grow ridiculously large antlers, however, as it is up to genes and fitness how large they grow. 

Unlike other deer, female reindeer have antlers too, although smaller ones. Most likely the function is to better defend their young.

reindeer2

Antlers grow at astonishing speed, as much as 2 cm per day! Reindeer antlers are the largest of all deers, relative to body size.

Reindeer shed their antlers once a year, males after the rutting (mating) season. Some hold on to their crown until Christmas, probably to show off when travelling with Santa. Others won’t get rid of them until spring! Big antlers are heavy to carry and not very handy in thick forest, so there is really no need to keep them after the ladies have seen them in Autumn. Females loose their antlers in the summer.

Reindeer are not fussy with food

The favourite food of reindeer is lichen. But in the forest during their summer holidays reindeer also munch mushrooms and plants. It has been counted that reindeer eat over 350 different species of plant! The strategy is to pile up weight as much as possible before the long winter.

reindeer3

In Torassieppi the elves feed the reindeer an armful of hay a day, plus some protein rich lichen and reindeer pellets. To keep them in shape.

In the winter they smell food under a thick layer of snow. They have a very good sense of smell, it is reindeer’s most import sense.

His name is Aaro. He can be a bit moody and doesn’t get along with everybody. Aaro tends to prefer female elves and co-operates well with them! He does like his caretaker Tommi (at the background), with whom he goes sledding often.

Extreme cold doesn’t bother

Reindeer can manage in extreme cold, in -50 degrees of Celsius.

My lungs hurt if I ski at full speed in -25 C. Reindeer warm cold air in the long nose before it enters lungs.

But the coolest (or warmest) trick is in the fur: They have a very thick underlayer of hair, and overcoat is made of stiff, hollow hair that traps air for insulation. Actually Santa’s reindeer could make their journey by swimming, as the air trapping fur works like a life vest!

reindeer5

I personally often get cold feet even in my warmest shoes. Reindeer don’t care, even if the temperature in their feet goes near freezing point. They don’t get a frost bite as I would, thanks to a specialised circulation system, in addition to a super cool antifreeze liquid in their bone marrow. True story.

Need to stop for a wee

In Finnish we have a measurement poronkusema which means the distance a reindeer runs without urinating. It is 7-8 km in fact. Reindeer cannot run and pee, so when sledding, they must be stopped at certain intervals so they can use the bathroom. I noticed at least Rolle seemed to empty his bladder every time we stopped on our 3 km sledding trip, just in case. It is actually very dangerous for the reindeer if he can’t go in a long time.

So if you see something yellow on the snow next to your house on Christmas Day, you know what it is!

These guys are sharing a joke. Or they both just love sledding. One of the elves is practising with young Harmikas (1,5 years old), who is too young to participate in Santa’s crew just yet.

 

See reindeer at Harriniva Torassieppi village, Lapland

Map to Torassieppi

This man took some Lego into a forest – see what happened next!

Lauri Maijala is not what you would call an ordinary nature photographer. When he goes into a forest for a photo shoot, he takes something really surprising with him: Lego.

Lauri puts a lot of thought into every single shot. His photos tell a coherent story. You see, not only is Lauri a photographer, he’s also a storyteller.

It was Lauri’s son who first inspired him to tell a story by photographing Legos in the wilderness. Nowadays we can all admire his work on Instagram.

The first story Lauri wrote was called The Tale of Three Crystals. 

To learn more about these breathtaking Lego adventures in the Finnish nature, check out Lauri’s Facebook page Tales of the Woodland Realm.

Read here what Lauri tells about his Lego photography!

Traveling with Lego

Almost three years ago we got interested in local traveling with my wife. We had visited some national park before that but it wasn’t a thing yet. Then we found a cave near to where we used to live and immediately got hooked for Finnish caves. On a grand scale they might not be as impressive as their larger kind but they are entwined with folklore and amazing  atmosphere. And of course they are easier to reach – especially while traveling with a child.

Photography has always been a second nature to me. Taking shots of the caves and their environment was interesting but  my photographing equipment was not well suited for dark caverns. Thus I needed something else that I could use to capture the essence of these wild locations. As toys have also always fascinated me I decided to take some with me for our trips and take photos of them in interesting places.

Reading our book to my son, 2014.

Reading our book to my son, 2014.

At first I had no preference about the toys I would take with me. But since my son was playing with Lego at that time I noticed that they were a perfect toy to take with me. The actual minifigures come in endless appearances and can be varied to my liking with ease.

I have a tendency to overcomplicate things. I noticed taking photos of Lego in the wild was not enough. Suddenly I found myself writing a story for my son and taking pictures to illustrate it for him. The Tale of the Crystals was an interesting project. I thought me search the story in a picture in a way I had not previously even thought of. While taking classes in photography at the University of Lapland, I had discussed about photographs in great length. But this was something new.

While traveling with Lego these boxes come in really handy.

While traveling with Lego these boxes come in handy.

Back then Instagram was not as big as it now. I had been using it for a while before abandoning it for changing the details of user agreement. But now I realized I could spread my these little stories with it. I redefined my account and began posting my photos there. And got swept away with its Lego community.

Of course now most of us (at least in Finland) have heard about the Finnish photographer Vesa Lehtimäki. He takes amazing pictures of Star Wars minifigs. But back then I had no idea about his work. And in a way I’m glad I didn’t. Since I had no idea about how popular these kinds of photos were I started on a clean slate and came up with my own style. Without the need of comparing my shots to the work of masters.

As with any photography it is important to get to the level of your target while taking photos.

As with any photography it is important to get to the level of your target while taking photos.

The Finnish nature has always been the premise for my photos. I still carry a box of minifigs whenever we go hiking or searching for new caves and ravines with my family. The feedback I have had from my work has been positive. People all around the world are interested to see Finnish nature photographed this way.

One of the most interesting things I have learned is that to some people might find pictures of nature without people haunting and terrifying. I have been walking in the woods for my whole life and this was a point that had never occurred to me. By placing even plastic toys in the shot I’m making them more alive, warm and friendly. At least this is what I have been told.

It has been interesting to get involved to this subculture of Lego enthusiasts. I have befriended many people all around the world and shared with them the experience of Finnish nature. People whose only contact to Finnish forests and wilderness might very well be my photographs. This has taught me both humility and pride at the same time. It has also inspired me to continue this hobby and to challenge myself to view the world differently.

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.

Pink skies and freezing cold: this is what’s going on in Lapland right now

The temperature dropped in a matter of days. First it was -5 degrees celsius, then -12, then -18*. Although it has snowed next to none so far, we can say that winter has taken over the vast commune of Kittilä in western Lapland.

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The river Ounasjoki froze overnight. Everything froze. Now you can hear what total silence sounds like.

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When it’s really cold, the eastern sky turns pink during the sunset. Until of course the sun no longer rises and the polar night begins in a few weeks.

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Even during the coldest of winter days one might get some visitors.

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Can you guess who’s there, behind all that snow?

 

 

*-5 degrees Celsius is equal to 23 degrees Fahrenheit,
-12°C = 10,4°F
-18°C = -0,4°F