Nostalgia for Winter Rituals, or, The Big Thaw

5 04 2011

There’s something raw and beautiful about the Finnish winter.  Perhaps it’s the muffled sounds of cars and people due to the snow’s acoustic quality, or because the nights are just longer, but (gasp!) it’s something I’m definitely going to miss. Signs of spring are everywhere, from longer days to warmer temperatures to the distinct sounds of birds chirping; winter’s gray clouds and white landscape replaced by grayish, slushy, wet streets and the burgeoning signs of spring abound.

Spring here in many ways isn’t the spring I’m accustomed to.  In New York, spring comes rapidly as temperatures hover far above freezing, then shoot hastily upward — perhaps it’s the latitude or, perhaps, it’s the sheer amount of concrete and people, but spring makes its relentless march with impunity, quickly giving way to the hot, sticky, pungent summer.  In Finland, spring is tenuous, almost cautious in its approach and people’s attitudes seem similarly attuned, as if anticipating winter’s fierce grip might return at any moment. Even the sounds of spring here are different, as snow and ice turn to water, the hilly terrain of Jyväskylä help tiny streams of water carve their way down to the lake, cutting through ice, exposing layers of older ice and snow, the sedimentation lending itself to comparisons to the Grand Canyon, albeit smaller and, well, whiter.  The sounds too are different, as the winter’s accrual of gravel begins to settle onto concrete sidewalks and asphalt, the squeaking sound of winter snow is replaced by the gnashing and crackling of gravel pellets whose purpose was to give traction in ice, but now just hitchhike home with you, making their way into bedrooms and baths,  scratching floors and stabbing sensitive feet.  Funny how useful things so quickly devolve into nuisances with the change of the season.

Finns in many ways are torn, however, and as they welcome the brief respite from winter, there’s almost a sense of sadness since winters distinguish Finland from so many other places, shaping everything from its architecture to its sporting life; I think that, while Finns look forward to lakes, beaches, and summer cottages, there is a yearning for the solitude and quiescence of the Finnish winter.  I have to say that, while I welcome the thaw and the arrival of above-freezing temperatures, there’s something nostalgic about the loss of the only Finland I know, the thing that makes it so unique: winter.  Layers of clothing, gauging the temperature, coat racks, and squeaky shoes — the rituals I’ve accustomed myself to — will ultimately give way to an all-too-easy life without the need to plan for dips in temperature or overcrowded coat racks.

The unrelenting march of time and change in season are reminders to me of the remaining months of my stay here.  As I near the midpoint of my Finnish adventure, I’m already beginning to miss Finland because, in many ways, I’m still living a dream, a reality so far removed from the New York I left nearly three months ago.  Life has changed and so have I.  In many ways, winter is oppressive and perhaps life before Finland was just as oppressive, with its responsibilities and demands.  Life in Finland has been a life of independence and choice — its open spaces and star-studded skies a metaphor for my own freedom, one that will end too quickly, but one I intend to make the most of with these remaining days.

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One response

20 04 2011
Kate

Your writing is so beautiful! Thanks for capturing what I am feeling.

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