Sunday, January 27, 2013

Those Strong (and Friendly) Finns!

When I woke up this morning I didn't know this couple existed; that would change dramatically within the next few hours.

I woke up later than normal, which is not a good sign for me.  I normally wake up at 5:00 or 5:30  just because I'm rested and ready to start the day.  Today I woke up much, much later.  I knew I wasn't sick;  I was getting too relaxed on this Sunday morning; I slept in because I had nothing concrete planned for the morning and honestly, this woman from California is still getting used to the dark hours of the Finnish winter!  It's very relaxing here!  I got myself motivated and ready for the day; I was determined to go cross-country skiing and I wanted to go further than I had gone yesterday, and the day before - and I wanted to start skiing while it was still light.

I started in Aavaranta, along Tuula's normal walking route, but I wanted to take one of the cross-country loops she had told me about.  I knew where the cross-country loops crossed/paralleled our walking road but I didn't know where they ended, I didn't remember how long the loops were, and I'm still learning to read the Finnish signs!  Yet how badly can one get lost?  Seriously!  Look at the map!  If you lose your way you either end up at the the lake, or the main road, or in downtown Joensuu.  There is no great risk!

I skied into the woods; at a road crossing a group of six or seven people skied past me and down another trail in the forest.  I followed them! They obviously knew where they were going!  and they were people!  It was Sunday and I hadn't been with people since Friday!

They were fast!  There was no way I could keep up with them - and I now I have my own personal reason for calling them "The Strong Finns!"  The Finns are incredibly STRONG in their cross-country skiing skills!  I was passed by every age, every weight, every height person there was in the forest.  They passed me with no effort, no heavy breathing, and I just kept sliding along...and tried to stay out of their way!

Soon those skiers were off in the distance and around a corner and I continued in the traditional way of cross-country skiing, in the tracks, sliding happily through the woods.

In the forest there are trails that lead off to the left and right at almost every turn in the trail.  Some trails have ski tracks but mostly they do not.  These forest people know where they want to walk and they make their trail through the forest.  (Only some of these trails have I taken the time to walk down.)

But now I was getting lost, well, as lost as one can be in this little paradise.  So I thought I would ask a Finn for directions, knowing that I may be breaking one of the Finnish rules about talking with people you don't know in the forest.  I thought I 'd better find out where I was going - and a practical request was usually met with kindness from the Finns.

A couple was approaching on their skis and I tried to say as politely as I could, "Anteeksi. Mikä tapa on Aavaranta?" ("Excuse me.  Which way is Aavaranta?")  I pointed in one direction and they said, "No," and pointed in  the opposite direction.


The cloud cover was so dense it was impossible to see the direction of the sun - and during the Finnish winter the sun is always in the south so it's easy to navigate; I had gotten turned around with the twists and turns in the forest.

From here we started a conversation that was a mixture of Finnish, English, German and a few words of French; we laughed and we became friends.  Before long, they invited me back to their house for coffee. What a treat!  I agreed.

I told them my name and they introduced themselves as Saima and Kalevi Haapala.  They also live in Joensuu, but more easterly of me, at least when they aren't living in the tundra of Lapland during the summer.

Saima stayed with me as we skied and Kelavi skied quickly on and left us behind.  He was going as fast as a twenty year old!  (Another Strong Finn!) Saima could have gone much faster but she kindly stayed with me so we could arrive at their house together. (I later found out I am the same age as one of their daughters.  Saima is another Strong Finn! I think this very strong couple is in their 70's.)

They welcomed me into their home and showed me their family pictures, as well as the pictures from their log cabin and sauna near the northern boundary of Norway.  They even showed me a picture of a salmon they caught that was almost 11 kilograms! The Haapala's were lovely, and kind, and we laughed a lot together.

Saima went into the kitchen and made us coffee, prepared on a table with homemade traditional Karelian foods, baked goods, sweets, and dill (spiced) pickles.  All of the foods were homemade; they were so delicious.  I told Kalevi he was a lucky man (for having a wife like Saima).  He agreed.  He called me the "the girl who always is laughing."  His wife laughed, too.

We spent a few hours together and it was lovely.  They were filled with joy and I appreciated their kindness, of welcoming me into their home, and for offering me their friendship.

I excused myself before it got too dark; I knew I'd have to follow my memorized landmarks to find my way home.  (By the way, I made my way home without even one wrong turn on the forest trail!)

I stopped at Tuula's house, met her daughter and grandchildren, said "Hei!" to Leo, her husband, and stayed for just a little while.  They offered to let me stay for some food but their family was together and I felt they needed their "family peace," or time together, as a family.

What a lovely day.  Thank you, Saima and Kalevi.  Thank you, Tuula and Leo.  Thank you, Fulbright, for allowing us as people, and cultures, to learn about each other and spend time together.


  1. What adventures you are having! How many miles dd you ski? Have you been cross country skiing much before?

    1. Hei, Toymaker! These are great adventures, for sure. I think it turned out to be about 10 km by the time I returned home. I cross country skied in college and a few times since so I know the motions but I'm not nearly in the shape that these Finns are in - even the ones twenty or more years older than I. They are spectacular!

  2. That was a great adventure and a happy outcome - I am sure your stopping them made their day more pleasant as did it make yours so!

    I think the bread crumbs in the snow will work the next time - as long as the large eared squirrels don't find them!

    1. Unfortunately, bread crumbs would get lost in this soft, dry snow. I will need to depend on the friendly Finns! :)

  3. An American - from California, no less - blogging in Joensuu. Sweet!

    This was the best blog entry about your trip so far. The first entries were nice, too. I have lived here all my life and it's fascinating to see things from a newcomer's perspective.

    I can only hope you can keep your attitude for the remainder of your stay. I also wish you could find the time to write more often about your normal daily life here - especially how it compares to California.

    1. Hei, Juha. Kiitos. I will try to include a post about the differences between Joensuu and southern California. There are many!

  4. Hi! I remember you earlier wrote about wishing to find a photographers in Joensuu. In case you haven't heard, there is a Joensuu Multicultural Photography Club (JMPC) meeting every Monday. I haven't been the meetings myself but I saw their photos in exhibition on market squfre earlier this winter. There is more information in their blog:

  5. Thank you, Sophia. I'll be there on Monday! :)

  6. Hi Janet,
    What wonderful people and what a wonderful adventure. I would have been completely panic at being lost. You must have your mom's GPS inside your head. I love seeing the maps and pictures! Take care!
    Love, Cathy