A few months ago, I heard a fact that there are more trees on Earth than there are stars in the Milky Way. At the time this fact blew me away; the idea that our tiny planet could have so much life on it. Having spent a weekend in Finland I am now convinced that there are more trees on Earth than there are stars in the universe.
The other thing that I have found interesting since touching down is that there is literally no one around. To give you some perspective of how few people there are imagine you take the entire population of the UK. Now get rid of everyone except those who love in London. Now get rid of almost half of them. This will leave you with the 5 million which you then need to spread out over a landmass 25% larger than the UK. Now fill the remaining space with trees, lakes, and the occasional slightly soviet town and you have Finland.
I am writing this post at 8:20 in the morning on Monday the 4th of July. A lot of people know this as American Independence Day but for me it is the day that I will join the army, which in many ways is kind of the polar opposite. I guess I should be scared but I am sure that will come eventually, for now I am just enjoying the last couple of hours of what has been one of my favourite weekends in years.
Heading off to Heathrow was when I had expected to bottle it and finally have a breakdown. I have always been carsick to the point where almost every journey I go on will involve me with my face in a bag at some point and I fully expected Friday to be no different. For some reason though, I felt perfectly fine. I continued to feel fine when I checked my bag in and found out my flight had been delayed by an hour, and when we went to have breakfast at Pret, and even as I said my last goodbyes accompanied by my last hugs and photos. That’s not to say I didn’t feel upset about leaving people. I did but I was fine with it.
Joining the line to go through security was my point of no return. As the queue crawled around the corner I looked back and gave my last awkward smiles before suddenly I was alone. This isolation didn’t really hit me until I picked up my bag from the old grey tray on the other side of the metal detector and turned to go through duty free.
As I strolled through the brilliant lit shops surrounded by elaborately shaped bottles of alcohol and perfumes with David Beckham pouting at me from all angles I was listening to “Finish Line” by Chance the Rapper (Get it?) and I just suddenly felt a wave of excitement rush over me. I was going on an adventure. Just me. No one else.
So fast forward back to Monday morning and I have had the most relaxed weekend I have had in years (maybe ever). I am staying with my mum’s sister Anu and her husband Pekka in their “Doll’s House” of an apartment in a town called Vääksy which has a couple of shops and a canal which spans two massive lakes. We spent our Saturday in beautiful sunny weather at their cottage on an island on one of the lakes (pictured) with my cousin Kalevi (or Kale) and his wife Tiina, who speaks very good English fortunately for me. I even had my first sauna in years and honestly I would take that over any spa at home. Hopping into the cold lake water only to go back into the 65 degree cabin, after some getting used to, was so incredibly relaxing that it was hard to feel anxious about anything.
Kale took me out to his forest yesterday as well yesterday with Tiina and a couple of comically short legged dogs which belong to my other cousin Immu and his wife Susku. Being out in the woods, miles away from anyone, convinced me that maybe I do want to live in Finland after all. They taught me what is good and not so good to eat, where to watch out for snakes, how to look for a kind of leaf which stops bleeding, what water is safe to drink, how to cut wood with an axe and make a fire, never to leave my rifle unattended in the army, and how best to take a crap in the woods. Kale’s technique involves going down on one knee and puffing out one’s chest with eyes up like a bulldog in a semi-heroic sort of pose, rifle in hand.
My main concern coming here was the food but even that has been great. In London I usually got through about 3 or my 5-a-days on most days but out here I am going above and beyond. We have eaten salad and bread with every meal and often the vegetables in the meal become an actual integral part of the dish rather than the obligatory vegetables on the side. It may just be my family but it also seems that the custom here is to take small portions and go back for more which I am a big fan of; it means you rarely take too much and look rude for not finishing it. I am sure, however, that the food in the army may not be of such a calibre.
The main difference I think that you see out here versus London is just the feel and the pace of life. Back home, everything is a competition. You need good grades so you can go to a good university so you can get a good job so maybe one day you may be able to consider buying a ridiculously overpriced house while still juggling your student loan, all the while trying to outshine everyone around you. Out here, life is cheap. My cousins are young couples and yet still have their own houses, cars, land, pets, children, and I have yet to hear them moan about the government, or the price of things, or the loans, or debts. Out here those things do not control your life.
Everything is closer to nature as a result. They know exactly where their drinking water comes from. They can point to meat in the local supermarket and say “this came from X farm” when in England we are told that it is “British Beef”, whatever that means. In the lake Kale pointed out that the reeds have appeared over the last twenty or so years and said that it is probably because of a pollutant running off from a farm. They even have a bin for things to be burned in the nearby power station. Since Finns out here are so close to nature the line of cause and effect becomes visible when back home it is hidden behind a curtain where you only see a stock picture of a cow in a lovely green pasture at one end and a plastic tub or frozen mince meat at the other.
What I am trying to say is that I love this place. Being here has calmed my nerves for the army in a way that nothing else could have done. Yes I still have my laptop and the internet and my phone and my cameras but I have found that I don’t have even the remotest desire to use them anymore. If I have a free hour I don’t go on Netflix but I open up my copy of Shakespeare; I’ve already finished The Tempest and got halfway through The Two Gentlemen of Verona. I have wanted to read in a way that I only ever feel when I go camping.
I’ll probably be nervous later but now I am going to go and eat my Mysli (Muesli) and enjoy my last morning here.